Dressed in a dark suit and quietly crying as he pleaded guilty to fatal DUI hit-and-run charges Tuesday morning, Raymond Morua ended a painful chapter in the lives of many who knew and loved victim Mallory Dies, but his words continued to hurt at least one person in the courtroom. “It was hard to hear the voice of the man who killed my daughter,” said Matt Dies.
Just after midnight on December 6, Morua was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 (more than twice the legal limit) when he hit 27-year-old Mallory Dies as she crossed Anacapa Street. He was arrested after speeding off and crashing into a nearby tree. Dies suffered severe head injuries in the collision and was taken off life support five days later.
Through a plea deal proposed by the District Attorney’s Office, Morua, 32, admitted to felony charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and fleeing the scene of an accident. He also admitted to two prior DUIs, but the plea agreement allows him to avoid the second-degree murder charge he previously faced. Morua will be sentenced on May 28 to 20 years to life in state prison, and his crimes count as a strike on his record. (Prosecutors and Morua’s defense attorney, however, disagree on how the prison time will be calculated. Deputy DA Arnie Tolks said Morua will become eligible for parole after 10 years; defense attorney Darryl Genis claims it is 17 years. The figure will be finalized at a later date.)
At the time of the accident, Morua — a Ventura County native, UCSB graduate, and Iraq War veteran — was employed as a district representative for Congressmember Lois Capps. Following his Army career, Morua had openly admitted to problems with alcohol brought about by lingering effects of PTSD, but he promised he had overcome his demons. He had served as president of UCSB’s Student Veterans Organization (SVO) and as board chair for Future Leaders of America; he recently was working to broker peace among the quarrelsome factions of the Veterans Memorial Building.
Despite his accolades, some have since questioned Morua’s outreach tactics when organizing informal veteran events, like SVO get-togethers with kegs and hard alcohol. Of some of his inebriated group addresses, one former SVO member said, “I wouldn’t call them rants, but I wouldn’t call them speeches either.” During his time in County Jail, Morua has reportedly been tutoring fellow inmates on their GED requirements, going to recovery meetings, and reading. His initial request for books on Vietnamese POW camps was denied by jail staff, but he has since been given access to history and philosophy texts.
Dies, who graduated UCSB and was a popular downtown bartender, is remembered and missed for her warm and witty personality, as well as for her fondness of not only the South Coast nightlife scene but also heady literature and political documentaries. Hundreds attended her seaside memorial service — an outpouring of love and grief continues to reverberate throughout Santa Barbara and Corona, where she’s from — and her death inspired a close group of relatives and friends to form an anti-drunk-driving campaign called Vow4Mal.
Outside the courtroom Tuesday, Matt Dies said he was content with the plea deal, explaining it will guarantee that Morua spend significant time in prison and spare the Dies family the painful process of a lengthy trial. After thanking Tolks and the DA’s Office for their fair handling of the case, Dies criticized Capps’s office for asserting that Morua was not representing the congressmember in an official capacity that night. Dies and his wife, through private attorney Robert Stoll, have filed a civil claim with the House of Representatives that alleges the governmental body bears legal and financial responsibility for Morua’s actions. Questions over the matter are the subject of a current Santa Barbara News-Press investigative series.
“The dishonest attitude that we’ve seen from the congresswoman’s office is disturbing,” said Dies, echoing statements given by Genis during previous hearings. “There was a human decency that should have been displayed that wasn’t. … Her stance is unsupportable.” Dies went on to say that if the House is ordered to pay financial damages, much of it will go toward Vow4Mal efforts.
Genis said he was pleased by the “swiftness” with which he and the DA’s Office were able to reach a settlement and that he was “proud” of Morua for taking responsibility for Dies’s death. He said he hopes Capps can “take a page from Morua’s book” and admit her accountability. Genis — after approaching Matt Dies and expressing his condolences as a fellow father — also explained that he hopes to organize the production of an anti-drinking-and-driving video with support from Dies, the DA’s Office, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving that could be broadcast during talk shows and perhaps “go viral” online. Morua would participate from jail, he explained. “If we get the message out, then more tragedies could be avoided,” Genis said.
Following Tuesday’s hearing, Capps issued a prepared statement that reads: “I am hopeful today’s court developments bring a small sense of peace to the family and friends of Mallory Rae Dies, and my thoughts and prayers remain with them. The loss of their loved one was and is a tragedy. It is clear she had an impact on many people’s lives. I know what it is like to lose a child, and no parent should have to experience that.
“The [Santa Barbara New-Press] story is full of inaccuracies, but because there is a pending legal matter against the House of Representatives, I am not able to comment any further.”