Garthia Elena Burnett: Tried and convicted by public opinion

July 30, 2010 10:14:00 AM

Garthia Elena Burnett -

 

A family member describes Robert Warren Triplett Jr. as a loving father, who would never do anything to hurt Kaila Morris, whom he treated like his own daughter. 

 

In Pascagoula, Triplett coached peewee football, a former player said. 

 

While working community service in Louisiana for a simple assault conviction, Triplett''s son accompanied him to Habitat for Humanity workdays. 

 

The picture witnesses painted of Robert "Butch" Triplett last week was not that of a loving father or children''s coach. 

 

Sitting in a federal courtroom in Oxford, it sounded more like Triplett was on trial for the disappearance of Kaila Morris than possessing child pornography. 

 

Condemning testimony revealed Triplett had bound a woman in her home in Jackson County, with the intent to assault her. Prior to his current charges, he was on non-adjudicated probation from the 2003 attempted assault. 

 

As the story unraveled, each layer was more damaging than the preceding:

 

 

His wife, Bonnie Morris Triplett, sat in the courtroom accompanied by a private investigator and a local attorney.  

 

She scoffed at answers investigators gave for language in their affidavit for a search warrant, which enabled them to seize her family''s computers. The affidavit was vague, defense argued, never referring specifically to computers. 

 

Prosecution argued Triplett was a person of interest in the case, leading them to want to probe areas of the home they otherwise might not have. Additionally, computers could have stored information valuable to the investigation. 

 

Robert Triplett reported his stepdaughter missing, Friday, Sept. 18. He last saw her on Thursday, Sept. 17, he told detectives. His wife, who urged him to call authorities, was vacationing in Florida at the time. 

 

On Sept. 19, Triplett e-mailed me a photo of Kaila. The family wanted to reach out to the public for help finding her. 

 

"Please let us know if you need anything else," he wrote, as I spoke with his wife to get a description of her daughter. 

 

Kaila is about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, 230 pounds, with brownish blond hair, down to her waist in length, Bonnie Triplett told me. 

 

She has green-gray eyes and a rose tattoo on the first toe after the big toe; she also has a tattoo of a white and gray wolf head on her right hip and a star and moon tattoo on her lower back. 

 

Mom''s plea was simple: "Help us find her." 

 

Kaila Morris was supposed to visit LaBriska in Carrollton, Ala., but she never showed up, never called her family or LaBriska and hasn''t been seen since. 

 

"This isn''t like her at all," Bonnie Triplett was quick to respond, when asked if the behavior was out of the ordinary for her daughter. Though she was 21 and a student at Mississippi State, Kaila was shy and reserved, very close to her family and stayed in touch, always. 

 

Despite numerous news stories, posters all over the county and a $10,000 reward offer, there has been no sign of Kaila since September 2009. 

 

There have been no fresh leads in the case -- no new reasons to hope she''s alive and no evidence she is dead. 

 

"Her stepdad had something to do with it," Amy posted on The Dispatch website in April. 

 

"Once a sex offender [sic] always [sic] one," gailtempleton, posted in December 2009. 

 

"I have known Butch, his Mom and Dad and his siblings for 40 years..most of my adult life...and they''re a fine bunch of people," Richard posted, also in December. "In all the time I''ve known Butch, I''ve yet to see an ounce of meanness in him. He just doesn''t have it in him. Period. He could never hurt his stepdaughter. Ever." 

 

"Triplett pled not guilty. He leaves a trail of victims but is never guilty. The only reason Triplett is not associated with Kaila''s disappearance YET is because he did too good of a job of dumping her body," Keepus Informed commented, in December. 

 

In October 2009, after Triplett''s arrest on child pornography charges, Vickie Bolton, who identified herself as Triplett''s ex-wife, commented, "Have the law enforcement officers quit looking for Kaila because they think Robert Triplett, Jr., has had something to do with her disappearance? We DON''T [sic] know what happened to Kaila! ... His sexual past has nothing to do with Kaila''s disappearance." 

 

"He is a sicko !!!!! I believe he did something to her because she was gonna tell on him," sportsfan1 posted last week. 

 

Dispatch blogger searchingforjustice said last week, "I, being the mother of Kaila Morris, am outraged by the fact that we still have not been able to find out what has happened to her. ... I will never give up hope that one day soon she will be found," in response to bloggers chastising Bonnie Triplett. 

 

Despite the open-ended case, it seems Triplett is already convicted in the court of public opinion, with a few dissenting voices from family and friends hoping to vindicate him. 

 

Triplett is not on trial for the disappearance of Kaila Morris. 

 

And without a corpse or some new evidence, likely, no one ever will be. 

 

Garthia Elena Burnett is news editor for The Dispatch. E-mail reaches her at gburnett@cdispatch.com.