Update (2:56 p.m.): The Travis County Sheriff’s office said they went to Morrisett’s house Thursday as part of a welfare check. The check was called in by the University after Morrisett missed an appointment, according to JB Bird, UT’s director of media relations.
M. Lynn Crismon, Dean of the College of Pharmacy, released a statement this morning regarding Morrisett’s death said he does not currently have information about potential memorial arrangements for the professor.
“I regret to inform you that Pharmacology & Toxicology Professor Richard Morrisett has died unexpectedly,” Crimson said. “He was found in his home, and my heart goes out to his family and loved ones.”
Crimson said counselors from the Employee Assistance Program and the Counseling and Mental Health Center are currently available for faculty, staff and students in the dean’s conference room for anyone who should need them.
Pharmacy Council President Melissa Kang also released a statement on behalf of the Council this afternoon following the news of Morrisett’s death.
“Our College has had a difficult semester that has culminated in devastating news,” pharmacy graduate student Kang said. “It will take time and effort to rebuild our community, and we appreciate the support from our friends on campus. It is crucial that our University learns this whole situation and never allows it to happen again.”
Original post: UT pharmacy professor Richard Morrisett was found dead in his home in South Austin Thursday afternoon, the University confirmed in a statement Friday morning.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office said they do not know the cause or manner of Morrisett’s death at this time because they are waiting on the report from the Medical Examiner’s office.
"Professor Morrisett’s death is a tragedy,” UT President Gregory Fenves said in a statement. “We support his family and loved ones as they grieve during this time. We recognize these are difficult times on campus and the University will offer all the support we can to students, faculty and staff members."
Morrisett pleaded guilty in February 2017 to felony charges after strangling his girlfriend until “she saw stars,” in May 2016, according to an arrest affidavit. Morrisett was also accused of a violent incident in July 2016 that sent his girlfriend to the hospital. These charges were resolved through an agreement with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in February 2017, which sentenced him to four years of probation, 100 hours of community service and a required class on family violence.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office confirmed they were responding to a deceased person case on Thursday afternoon at the location of Morrisett’s home. There was no indication of foul play, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office said at that time. The identity of the person could not be released until the medical examiner’s office finished their examination and confirmed.
Morrisett’s neighbor, Shelby Walden, said she lives diagonally across the street from him and has not seen him recently. Walden said she has known Morrisett for years and that he typically does yard work on the weekends.
Walden said she first heard police sirens around noon Thursday but did not see the Travis County Sheriff SUVs outside of Morrisett’s house until about 45 minutes later when she left to run an errand.
“I actually thought (the sirens) were coming from FM 1826, which is that highway that you come off on into our neighborhood,” Walden said. “I didn’t realize it was this close into our house.”
At 2:30, Walden said she stopped and saw several SUVs and police tape wrapped around the house. By 3:50 p.m., however, Walden said all of the sheriffs had left the house and the police tape had been removed.
“The sheriff and all of them, they are all completely gone,” Walden said. “The police tape is down. There’s nothing there now…. You can’t tell anything has happened.”
Walden said Morrisett has lived there for many years and used to host annual parties for faculty and students of the pharmacy school, but has not done so in several years.
“He seemed like a fairly normal guy,” Walden said. “He was cordial. He would say hi to you when you went past his house.”
An Austin-American Statesman investigation published Jan. 24 revealed UT kept Morrisett on as faculty after pleading guilty to the charges.
On Jan. 26, following the release of the Statesman investigation and campus backlash, UT President Gregory Fenves ordered a two month committee review of University policies and procedures that allowed Morrisett to remain on faculty.
The recommendations of the report were released Thursday morning and found the University’s review on an employee’s misconduct off-campus should be expanded to consider if the misconduct violates the University’s Mission, Core Values or Code of Conduct. Additionally, the committee found no substantive changes to the University’s policies need to be made, except for clarifying the amendment that requires employees to disclose their criminal cases.
Morrisett had been a professor at UT since 1997. He ran a research lab in the College of Pharmacy researching neural networks.
The College of Pharmacy buildings were found tagged on Feb. 5 with red spray-paint messages such as “UT harbors abusers” and “Watch your back Richard,” alongside a depiction of a sickle and hammer.
About two dozen students then protested the University’s decision to keep Morrisett on staff on Feb. 13 near the College of Pharmacy buildings.
Brianna Stone and Allyson Waller contributed to this reporting.