King Con

Page 10 of 10

Morris finally allowed Russell back inside. But Morris claims that he'd had enough, and that he told his lover he was returning to Texas to turn himself in. The next morning, Russell was back on the phone, and Morris amused himself at a casino.

When Morris returned to the hotel that afternoon, he couldn't get into the room. He could, though, see that his suitcase and belongings were in a heap on the floor, and that Russell was gone. As Morris walked to the front desk to report that his key didn't work, he assumed that Russell had split town, leaving him behind. But when Morris looked outside the motel lobby, he saw several police cars slide into the parking lot. The game was over; he was arrested.

Russell was already a guest of the Biloxi PD when Morris arrived at the police station. The two were then driven to the Harrison County Jail in nearby Gulfport. It was during that ride to jail, Morris claims, that Russell finally confessed all of his lies.

Prosecutors have a hard time believing Morris knew so little. "He says he thought Steven was really a lawyer and was really making money legitimately?" prosecutor Terry Jennings asks rhetorically. "Bullshit!"

Between property recovered and bank accounts seized, authorities have so far been able to recover $550,000 of the $850,000 they say Russell and Morris stole from NAMM. Morris remains incarcerated at the Harris County Jail while awaiting trial. Russell has been assigned to serve his sentence at the Texas Department of Justice's Eastham Unit, a maximum-security prison.

As of mid-January, Russell and Morris were no longer in communication. Although Russell's main concern appeared to be Morris's well-being, Morris did not appear particularly interested in Russell. "Something that people don't understand is that I've forgiven Steve for what he's done to my life," said Morris. "I'm more angry at myself for being so stupid and gullible."

On the cold January night that Steven Russell was returned to the custody of Texas prison officials, the first thing he wanted to tell reporters was that Phillip Morris was completely blameless.ooooo "It has caused me a lot of grief that he had to go to jail because of me," said Russell. "Causing an innocent person to go to jail -- that's probably the greatest tragedy anyone can ever be guilty of. I'm pretty disgusted with myself, to be quite honest with you."

"To be quite honest with you" -- it's a phrase that Russell drops into sentences like punctuation. He cased the room, checking to see whether anyone believed that he'd suddenly been overwhelmed by the desire to tell the truth.

No one seemed to.
At the conclusion of the interview, Russell was asked when he plans to leave prison. For the first time that evening, his eyes twinkled, and he couldn't hide a cat-like smile.

"Just as soon as the parole board will let me go," he said.
Once again, no one believed him.

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Steve McVicker