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On July 23, 2000, in Merritt Island, Florida, a local judge thought he spotted a lifeless manatee floating in the waterway behind his home.
A closer look revealed that it wasn’t a marine mammal near the mangroves, but something even more disturbing: a human body. The judge called the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, whose officers raced to the scene.
Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Agent Gary Harrell located the partially-clad body of a woman floating face down in the Indian River. She was bound by rope and duct tape, he told “One Deadly Mistake,” airing Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
The bloating of the body of the victim indicated that she’d been in the water for about three and a half days. Detectives believed that she’d been dumped in the water, possibly from a boat.
It was also “obvious” that she had been murdered, said Harrell. Her hands and feet had been bound by red and white nautical rope tied in a distinctive cow hitch knot taught and used by the Coast Guard. She had white duct tape around her mouth and eyes, all signs of a homicide. It appeared that plastic bags from Publix Supermarket had been used to help submerge the body.
Investigators did quickly notice a potential clue: black hairs in the duct tape that didn’t belong to the victim, who had auburn tresses. They hoped that these hairs could help lead to the killer.
Unfortunately, after the body was brought to the coroner’s office, an autopsy revealed it was too decomposed to determine the cause of death. There were no bullet, stabbing, or defensive wounds, either.
Officials were able to use fingerprints to identify the victim as 22-year-old Misty Morse, who lived about 20 miles from where her body was discovered, though. Her mother, Linda Morse, told authorities she had last seen Misty three days earlier as she was getting ready to go out. It was shortly after midnight on Thursday when Misty stopped and asked her mother how she looked. As they spoke, Misty got a phone call that was so brief investigators theorized it was a call to say “I’m here” from the person who picked Misty up.
Based on the evidence on the body, authorities were looking for a local suspect with military background and access to a boat. These factors helped rule out early persons of interest, including an ex-boyfriend, Teddy Underwood, and Bobby Cooper, a man who had a one-sided crush on Misty.
After being cleared, Cooper gave investigators an essential lead: He said Brent Huck, a 28-year-old charter boat captain with some Naval background, might have information about Misty.
Two weeks after Misty’s body was pulled from the river, officials went to Huck’s home, where they were greeted by a black dog whose coat was the same color as the hairs on the duct tape used to bind Misty. Alarm bells rang for detectives.
They learned Misty and Huck’s relationship, which was marked by rocky times, had ended a year earlier, although Huck described their current status as “friends with benefits” to police. He added that he’d heard rumors she was pregnant — but investigators knew that the autopsy confirmed Morse was definitely not pregnant.
Harrell told “One Deadly Mistake” that he was struck by Huck’s lack of empathy as he spoke of the young woman whose life had ended so brutally. More red flags arose during a search of Huck’s home, where authorities found white duct tape and Publix bags under the kitchen sink.
And there was the black dog, Chiba, a Rottweiler-German shepherd mix that was a gift from Misty during the couple’s happier times. Eventually, Misty’s four-legged present would come back to bite Huck.
Though circumstantial, the evidence pointing toward Huck as the killer was compelling enough to have a dive team comb the river in his waterfront backyard. Divers came out with a red and white nautical rope with burnt ends just like the cord used to bind Misty.
However, prosecutors told investigators that they still didn’t have enough evidence that directly tied Huck to Misty. It would take two years for that to change, thanks to a breakthrough case in California that used canine DNA. Investigators then submitted the hairs stuck to white duct tape on Misty’s body to a West Coast lab for analysis.
The test confirmed that the hair on the duct tape belonged to Chiba, whose hairs had been collected during the investigation and kept for comparison. That confirmation leashed Huck and the crime together.
Investigators theorized that the rumors, although false, about Morse being pregnant may have played a part in the homicide. They believed Huck strangled her and disposed of her body in the river.
On October 23, 2002, Huck, who Misty’s father, Bob Morse called “a gutless coward,” was charged with felony kidnap and murder. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
“I hope he lives a thousand years,” Bob told producers, “and remembers every day what he did to Misty.”
Huck maintains his innocence and insists it was Misty's other ex-boyfriend who actually murdered her, local station WFTV-9 reported in 2011.
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