ELLSWORTH, Maine — A man accused of killing a Trenton man in July 2012 told police that if anyone thought he was trying to pass himself off as anyone else, it must have just been a misunderstanding.
The jury hearing evidence in the murder trial of William Morse heard an audio recording Thursday morning of an interview Maine State Police Detective Tom Pickering conducted with Morse on July 25, 2013. The interview took place in Pickering’s police vehicle immediately after Morse was found hiding under a pile of clothes in his alleged victim’s house on Goose Cove Road.
According to prosecutors in the case, Morse allegedly killed Richard Bellittieri and then stole his identity in order to gain access to and then spend $175,000 of Bellittieri’s money. Bellittieri had found Morse on the Craigslist advertising website and hired him in the summer of 2012 to assist in building a duplex on Bellittieri’s Goose Cove Road property, prosecutors have said.
At the time of the July 25, 2013, interview, police were concerned about where Bellittieri might be but had not yet found his body, buried under a pile of potting soil on the Goose Cove Road property. Bar Harbor police and then Maine State Police were looking for Bellittieri because Morse had several forms of Bellittieri’s identification with him when he was arrested July 9, 2013, in Bar Harbor on a charge of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicants
In the interview, which lasted about half an hour, Pickering can be heard telling Morse that police were just trying to find Bellittieri, the owner of the property. He tells Morse in the interview more than once that he is not under arrest and that Morse is free to call his attorney if he wants to.
But he also presses Morse about where Bellittieri might be and says police have evidence Morse had led several people to believe he was Bellittieri, according to the interview. Some of Bellittieri’s signatures on paperwork police tracked down while searching for him looked different from other Bellittieri signatures, Pickering told Morse in the interview.
“I’m trying to find out why he’s not here,” Pickering says in the recording. “Did you ever tell anybody that you were Rick?”
Morse told Pickering in the interview that he had seen Bellittieri the month before or so but that he was not sure where he was. He said in the interview that Bellittieri had given him a bank card to use for carpentry expenses and to pay himself and that he had been authorized to perform certain tasks for Bellittieri such as registering a vehicle and collecting rent from Bellittieri’s tenants on Mount Desert Island.
“Not that I recall,” Morse said about posing as the missing man.
He told Pickering that if anyone had assumed he was Bellittieri, it would have been a misunderstanding. He said he could not remember whether he had registered an Audi car in Bellittieri’s name but, if he did, it would have been with Bellittieri’s approval.
Morse was not arrested on a charge of murdering Bellittieri until Aug. 1, 2013.
Bellittieri was divorced, had no children and no close friends or family in the area, police have said. This allegedly enabled Morse to explain away Bellittieri’s disappearance to the few people who inquired by saying Bellittieri had gone back to New York, where he was from, to deal with family matters or to earn money to pay for the Goose Cove Road project, according to police.
One of those people, Ellsworth resident Pauline Buie, testified Thursday morning about how she was friends with Bellittieri and became concerned when he stopped communicating with her in late April or early May 2012. She said she and a friend went looking that fall for Bellittieri at the Goose Cove Road property and that a man there told them Bellittieri was in New York.
Buie testified she did not get a good look at the person they spoke to because she was sitting on the passenger side of their vehicle and the man was standing on the driver’s side. But she added that her friend told her as they drove away that the man was “creepy.”
Morse’s defense attorneys objected, and Justice William Anderson, the presiding judge in the trial, told the jury to disregard Buie’s “creepy” comment.
Witnesses who testified Thursday afternoon included a Minot man who said he has known Morse for 30 years.
Todd Ross told the jury that Morse lived in a neighboring town, without specifying which one, and said they had met when they were around 20 years old.
Ross, a contractor, said Morse paid him $100 per day in the summer of 2013 to work on the Goose Cove Road building project. He said he sold a 33-foot yacht — supposedly through Morse to Bellittieri — and that Morse gave him a check for $9,200 but never actually picked up the boat, which was at a friend’s house in Mechanic Falls.
The trial is expected to resume Friday morning and to continue into next week.