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Colorado mom who went missing in 2020 died by homicide, autopsy says

Suzanne Morphew, whose body was discovered in September, died by homicide, with drugs used as animal tranquilizers in her system, the El Paso County coroner's report said.
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A missing Colorado woman whose body was discovered in September died by homicide, with drugs often used as animal tranquilizers in her system, an autopsy report concluded.

Suzanne Morphew, who vanished in May 2020, "died as a result of homicide by unspecified means in the setting of butorphanol, azaperone, and medetomidine intoxication," according to the El Paso County coroner's report, obtained Monday by NBC News.

"The drugs are marketed as a compound injectable chemical immobilizer for wildlife providing pharmacologically reversible analgesia, sedation, and immobilization," the report said.

Morphew's body was found in September near the town of Moffat, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which said agencies investigating her death are aware of the report.

“The investigative team assembled to work this case continues to follow the evidence and only the evidence as we seek justice for Suzanne’s death," Chris Schaefer, the bureau's director, said in a statement.

murder victim
Suzanne Morphew.Chaffee County Sheriff's Office

Her husband, Barry Morphew, 56, was charged with murder, but the case was dismissed without prejudice in April 2022, roughly a week before trial, at the request of prosecutors.

A dismissal without prejudice allows prosecutors to refile against a previous defendant when they believe evidence supports it. The Chaffee County Attorney’s Office, which filed the initial case against the husband, did not respond to a request for comment.

Barry Morphew was also charged with tampering with a deceased human body, tampering with physical evidence, possession of a dangerous weapon and attempted influence of a public servant following his wife's disappearance. 

Prosecutors said Suzanne Morphew, a mother of two, planned a bike ride near Maysville on Mother's Day 2020 but was murdered with the help of a tranquilizer gun. They alleged Barry Morphew was the only person with a motive to kill her: She was having an affair, believed he was, too, and planned to divorce him, authorities said.

Prosecutors said in court that four days before she was reported missing, Morphew sent her husband a text message that read, "I'm done."

While the case was rooted in what prosecutors painted as a disintegrating relationship, Judge Patrick Murphy, the Chaffee County jurist presiding at the preliminary hearing in 2022, said it was possible someone else killed Morphew. He noted that DNA found on the glove box of her SUV could be tied to sexual assault evidence in cases in Arizona and Illinois.

Barry Morphew pleaded not guilty and has steadfastly denied he had anything to do with his wife's disappearance or death.

One year ago, he filed a $15 million lawsuit against prosecutors, Colorado Bureau of Investigation employees and FBI employees, alleging they violated his civil rights by pursuing him, prosecuting him and, in the case of prosecutors, dropping the case.

A lawyer for Barry Morphew, Iris Eytan, suggested Monday that the autopsy report's findings about animal tranquilizers may be consistent with remains found in rural Colorado, given the prevalence of hunting and ranching in the state.

"The drugs are common use in Colorado with hunters and ranchers — and [Colorado] Parks and Wildlife," she said by email. Eytan called on investigators to find who may have prescribed them.

Morphew would have been 53 on Tuesday, her birthday.