Karen Colleen Stribel loves to talk about the beauty and serenity of her land in Watertown, Tenn., not far from Nashville. But this mother of two girls and computer consultant by trade got the shock of her life when a sheriff called her and told her about an audio tape that detectives had secretly recorded. On it was the voice of her 19-year-old daughter, Lauren Ashley Morrow, who was plotting to kill her.
Morrow was caught on tape talking to two young men — allegedly plotting Stribel's murder — in grisly detail.
"If you hit her with a shotgun, don't hit her in the face, please," Morrow said on tape.
To which, one of the young men responded, "Well, if there's a steering wheel blocking her chest, then her head's the only thing that's sticking over the top … They'll just have a closed casket."
"I was in total shock," Stribel said when she learned about the tapes. "No one writes the handbook on that one. No one."
Tension Growing Up
Both Stribel and her daughter insist they were close in the early days, but there also were conflicts, like Morrow's smoking. "That was a problem I had. She started smoking at a younger age. And I was very sad about that one," Stribel said.
And there was more trouble. Morrow dropped out of school as a sophomore and began home-schooling. But it wasn't long before the home-schooling ended. Stribel "had some problems when it came to me not doing the home-schooling," Morrow said. "But we got over it."
Stribel believes their problems were the result of personality clashes. "I really felt that it was two strong people kind of buttin' heads. She was tryin' to grow up and be her, and I still wanted her to be mine."
Her defense team does not want Morrow to discuss the case itself because it's yet to go to trial. And although the two held hands in an interview with ABC News, their relationship has been tested before, as when Morrow got pregnant at 17.
When Morrow broke the news to her mother, Stribel said she would be there for her.
"She hesitated for a minute, and then when she looked at me, she said, 'I don't want you to worry; we'll take care of it. I don't want you to think I'm mad at you. I love you, and we'll be okay,'" Morrow remembered.
The father of the baby, and Morrow's boyfriend, was 24-year-old Andrew Bland. Stribel admitted there was friction between them. "I didn't feel that he had the sense of responsibility that I would have liked to see."
With tension at home, Morrow moved in with Bland. A few months later, their daughter Hailey was born. And now, the young parents are being accused of plotting to murder Stribel.
Hatching the Plan
In a statement to police read by a detective in court, Bland had stated how it all started. "Morrow and her mom had got into a slight argument, and she came upstairs and said, 'Life would be better with my mom not around,'" the detective was quoted as saying in court.
According to the statement, Morrow told Bland that her mom had a $2 million life insurance policy, and she was the sole beneficiary. Enter Josh Stubblefield, a new friend of Bland and Morrow's who was still in high school when they began to hang out.
Bland offered Stubblefield $100,000 to kill Stribel, according to statements made by both young men. The next day, at the Waffle House restaurant where Stubblefield worked, he told a customer he knew about the murder plan, and asked him if he knew where he could get a "throwaway" gun.
The man, who knew some detectives, alerted police. Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe quickly took action. "We furnished the weapon. We took a small caliber handgun. Made it inoperable, where it would not fire."
The informant, wearing a wire, met Stubblefield back at the Waffle House and gave him the gun provided by police.
Officers moved in, arrested Stubblefield, and said he told them everything about the plot. Now working for the sheriff, Stubblefield arranged to meet Morrow and Bland. The meeting took place here where Morrow and Bland were living. But now, Stubblefield was the one wired for sound and playing a role for the sheriff, talking about methods and weapons.
In tapes recorded by the police, Bland told Morrow "You just make it look like a robbery."
"Put the gun in the bag and you drop it in the frickin' Cumberland River. They'll never find it," Morrow replied.
Bland and Morrow were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder, a felony worth a possible 15 to 25 years in prison. A grand jury will decide if the case goes to trial. But Stribel has never wavered in her faith in her daughter.
"Even hearing those tapes, I still did not have a fear of them," Stribel said. "And I don't for a moment believe they could have ever, ever gone through with this. They could not have looked me in the face and done that. I don't believe it."
Welcoming Her Daughter Home
Remarkably, Stribel has not only bailed her daughter out, she's taken her back into her home with open arms.
Morrow's former attorney, Jack Lowery, argued that it was unpleasant talk, but just talk. Josh Stubblefield's attorney also says this was nothing but talk. Andrew Bland's lawyer would not comment on the case.
"There's a lot of talk, a lot of inappropriate talk but this talk never reached the point of fruition to carry out a plot," Lowery said.
Sheriff Ashe disagreed. "This is a cold, chilling, calculating, series of conversations between individuals who are planning to take this lady's life."
Ashe said that if they hadn't gotten the disabled gun from the police, they would have bought a functional one, and Stribel would not be alive today.
"These are not 12- and 13-year-old children laughing and giggling about how we're going to do mommy, OK? These are adults in deep conversation about how to kill her mother," Ashe said.
Morrow, who says she loves her mom, maintained that she would not have gone through with the murder and that she is not even capable of committing such a crime.
"I can barely even stand to see a mouse caught in a mousetrap. So, absolutely not," Morrow said.
With the threat of prison hanging over her head, Morrow has begun to turn her life around. She has earned a high school equivalency degree and is holding a full-time job. Her daughter has been placed by the court with a relative, but she's hoping to get her back soon. Morrow says she's still involved with Andrew Bland but has moved back in with her mother.
"I told her that I'm … I made some bad judgments," Morrow said. "And … that I was … I was sorry that I had … that those had come about."
No one will ever know if Morrow would have or could have murdered her mother. And when friends ask Stribel how she can live under the same roof with a daughter who plotted to kill her, Stribel responds like a mother.
"I love her dearly," Stribel said. "I made a commitment to her when she was born that I would always love her, and that I … there would never be anything she could do to separate us from that. And I intend to keep that commitment."