SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Several loved ones gathered outside the Third District Court in Salt Lake City Thursday to protest the possible release of the man accused of locking his girlfriend in a storage unit, which later caught on fire and killed the woman

According to Murray Police, Alexander Wardell, 30, admitted to locking his girlfriend, Morgan Kay Harris, 27, in a storage unit with her dog on Saturday, Feb. 18. While he was away, police say the unit caught fire, ultimately killing Harris. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation, but authorities arrested Wardell on a homicide and kidnapping charge. 

Harris’ mother, Laurice Williamson, said she is holding the justice system responsible for her daughter’s death. Williamson and her family knew Wardell had been arrested in the past for drugs, but it wasn’t until her daughter was killed she learned the extent of his crimes.

In 2019, Wardell pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. Police records state he choked his girlfriend in November 2018. A month later, he assaulted his girlfriend again. The victim told police Wardell “cornered” her with a knife and said, “Do you want to lose a finger or toe?” Wardell then stabbed her in the arm and stole her phone. 

Instead of prison time, he was given time served and 36 months probation. 

According to Adult Probation and Parole records, Wardell has violated probation nearly 20 times since his conviction in 2019. Police say he was arrested last year for having a knife and a black airsoft pistol he thought was a real gun.

AP&P had requested the judge terminate Wardell’s probation on more than one occasion. 

“Based off of Mr. Wardell’s behavior and performance since being placed on probation, he has shown little to no insight into his addiction,” wrote his probation officer on Aug. 24, 2022. “This agency has attempted to work with Mr. Wardell in resolving his issues surrounding substance abuse. Mr. Wardell appears unwilling to abide by his probation and will not obtain the treatment he desperately needs unless he is in a setting where he is unable to leave.”

Instead of terminating Wardell’s parole, court records show the judge reinstated his parole. 

“They are culpable in my daughter’s death. They had the knowledge that we didn’t have the power to do something about it,” Williamson said. 

While Wardell was arrested in February, no formal charges have been filed in this case. 

“We have multiple investigators (police and fire) that are working on the investigation and some of those facets of the investigation take more time than others,” said a spokesperson for the Murray Police Department. 

Instead, Wardell is behind bars for violating probation, and a judge is now considering releasing him to an inpatient treatment facility for his drug addiction despite the prosecuting attorney’s objections. One of the reasons being Wardell has a history of leaving treatment facilities with probation officers not knowing his whereabouts for months. 

“Tell me your reasoning in letting a violent man out on the streets over and over and over again, when he was proving that he wasn’t willing to cooperate with the stipulations of probation,” said Williamson. 

Williamson shared a petition in which she detailed her thoughts on Utah’s justice system and its flaws.

ABC4 did reach out to the judge who has been handling Wardell’s case since 2019. We were told judges do not comment on pending cases.