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‘It definitely is a shock’: Tenant facing eviction charged with brutal garage ax murder of landlord on day of court hearing

Jacob Morrill

Jacob Morrill (L) in a mugshot from the Portsmouth Police Department in Rhode Island, (R) during a court appearance (WPRI screengrab)

A tenant facing eviction murdered his landlord with an ax on the day of a scheduled court hearing and told investigators where they could find the body wrapped in a tarp, police say.

The Portsmouth Police Department said in a press release that 50-year-old Xue Feng Wu, a Tiverton resident, left his home early Monday to check on the 1722 West Main Rd. rental property where Morrill was staying. By 4:32 p.m., when Wu had not been seen or heard from for hours, officers went to the scene and encountered Morrill there, cops said.

The tenant allegedly admitted that the landlord was at the property earlier in the day and claimed Wu had gone to court in Providence. It turns out that Wu was supposed to go to court that morning — to evict Morrill — but it wasn’t until after 6 p.m. on Monday that police learned the worst and made an arrest.

Cops said that a tipster called around that time and claimed to have “information pertaining to a crime” at the rental residence. Then, around 6:10 p.m., Morrill “contacted our department and stated to the desk officer that he struck and killed Mr. Wu,” cops said in the press release.

Morrill was detained behind a Mobil gas station, where he apparently agreed to meet cops, and allegedly revealed the location of the victim’s body.

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Thereafter, police said, the victim’s body was found in the “rear wooded area” of the rental property “wrapped in a tarp and held down in place by a section of wire fencing and other objects in an area of brush off the pathway.”

Police now believe that Morrill and Wu had a confrontation inside a garage at the rental property, in which the suspect allegedly grabbed a “small handheld axe” and hit Wu in the head and killed him.

Portsmouth Police Chief Brian Peters spoke to reporters about the Monday slaying and he said that “it definitely is a shock to see that here in Portsmouth.” He said there had not been an incident like it for “a few years now” (Portsmouth reportedly hadn’t had a murder case since 2016).

“The Portsmouth Police Department extends our sincere condolences to Mr. Wu’s family for their tragic loss,” cops said in the press release.

Wu, a husband and father to a young daughter, had an active court case against Morrill in an attempt to evict him from the property; both Morrill and Kelsey Butler were named as defendants in the eviction matter.

The case was closed the same day as the slaying, court records say, and a hearing had been scheduled for that morning.

The police chief credited “an individual in the home” for calling police and he said that this person and Morrill “live together.”

A separate eviction case, which also named Morrill and Butler, was closed on March 17, court records show. That case was connected to a residence on Baker Street in Warren. Judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiff, Diane Greenbaum, the day the case was closed.

Morrill was arraigned in Newport County District Court on a first-degree murder charge Tuesday and held without bond. A bail hearing is currently set for June 6.

The suspect will turn 25 on June 16.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.