A porch light left to burn all night became a safety beacon for a 13-year-old boy escaping the horrors of a serial child rapist who drugged his victims and filmed his exploits, federal prosecutors told a jury deciding the fate of former Spokane Veterans Affairs emergency doctor Craig Morgenstern.
Stripped of his medical license and jailed since October 2014, Morgenstern, 47, faces decades in prison if convicted on a 35-count indictment that alleges he sexually abused and made pornography films with six children and teens.
The jury in Spokane of nine women and six men heard the chilling pleas for help in a recording of a 2:30 a.m. emergency call the frightened boy made on Oct. 18, 2014. His family had befriended Morgenstern, who ingratiated himself as a hip, fun adult with collections of arcade games, action movies, toys, big screen televisions and flashy sports cars, prosecutors told the jurors. He hosted what were supposed to be fun sleepovers.
Instead, he used his role as a doctor to obtain prescription benzodiazepines, sedatives that prosecutors said led the victims to have amnesia.
The boy told investigators that he sometimes felt ill after sleepovers at Morgenstern’s and on that October night decided not to eat or drink as much. Morgenstern is accused of stirring the sedative into a cup of hot cocoa. The boy slipped into sleep during a movie and recalls Morgenstern carrying him into a room with a mattress on the floor. He remembers lighting and the distinctive click of a camera shutter.
As the sedatives wore off, the boy endured a 90-minute sexual assault, prosecutors said. Terrified of Morgenstern and the pair of pistols the doctor kept bedside, the boy pretended to slowly awaken and asked Morgenstern if they could finish watching the movie.
The boy told investigators Morgenstern agreed but had to first use the bathroom. When the door closed the boy grabbed his cellphone and fled. He ran out of the house into the dark, away from Morgenstern’s home – a property along the north shore of Long Lake in Stevens County.
He looked for help and dialed 911. Then he saw the porch light turned on at the home of Thomas and Cynthia Cochrane. He banged on the door and nobody immediately answered. Worried Morgenstern would find him in the light of the house, he turned and was ready to run again when the door opened.
The jury Monday heard from Cynthia Cochrane how scared the boy was as he talked and cried and kept a hand between his legs. The whole encounter unfolded as the Cochranes took him into their care, called his parents and comforted the boy as they waited for deputies to arrive.
Finally, after they waited 30 minutes in a room without windows, a patrol car rolled into the driveway.
Before Thomas Cochrane could emerge from the house, Morgenstern pulled his Porsche behind Deputy Mike Berry’s cruiser, climbed out and asked, “Are you here to help me?”
He told Berry he needed to find a young friend spending the night who had left while sleepwalking. Cochrane then arrived out the front door and hollered to the deputy: “That’s him!”
Then another deputy, Travis Frizzell, arrived and the two ensured the boy was safe and then escorted Morgenstern back to his home. Dispatchers had apprised the deputies of the information from the 911 call during the half-hour drive to the Cochrane home.
The deputies told jurors about their walk-through of the house with Morgenstern’s consent. The doctor wouldn’t let them take an iPad or other equipment the boy described in his description of the sexual assault. They would have to wait to seize any items with a formal search warrant – though Frizzell did ensure the two pistols kept near the bed were unloaded. On the witness stand, Berry blamed minimal staffing in the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office for being unable to obtain a search warrant quickly.
Later, another investigator told the jury that a urine sample collected from the boy during an examination at Providence Holy Family Hospital showed a concentration of benzodiazepine.
Morgenstern was then arrested – within a week of the boy’s escape from his home, according to court documents.
As the trial unfolds during the next two weeks in front of U.S. District Judge William F. Nielsen, jurors were told they would be asked to watch child pornography films Morgenstern made. Also, they will listen to victims – some of whom are now adults – in testimony that will not be open to the public. The victims’ families also are expected to testify about their former friendships and associations with Morgenstern.
Other witnesses will include FBI specialists who analyzed metadata collected to find other pornographic material either made by Morgenstern or downloaded to his computers, prosecutors said.
After the initial “consent search” by the deputies, Morgenstern is accused of destroying or hiding electronic equipment including computers, cameras, lighting, recordings, an iPad and other items. Jurors will hear witnesses describe how those devices were recovered.
Also, medical experts and others will offer testimony about the alleged drugging of the victims.
FBI investigators took over much of the case as the investigation into Morgenstern uncovered at least a half-dozen victims who in some cases were driven from Spokane across the state line to a hotel in Hayden for nights of sex abuse and making pornography, according to federal prosecutor James Goeke. In another instance, Morgenstern is accused of committing crimes against a child during a road trip through Mississippi and Tennessee.
Morgenstern’s defense attorney, Bryan Whitaker, did not tell jurors the child sex abuse and pornography accusations were false. He asked them to review each of the 35 counts individually to see if they meet the government’s evidence and procedural threshold. He said not all of the alleged events contained in the government’s indictment occurred in Washington.
Whitaker has not outlined a defense strategy in court documents. He unsuccessfully attempted to have the trial moved from Spokane because of publicity.
Prosecutors have reported more than 9,000 pages of evidence material to the court record. The defense has not provided any evidence, according to records.
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