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Opening statements presented at Morris murder trial

Inmate charged with killing correctional officer at Washington County Hospital

Inmate charged with killing correctional officer at Washington County Hospital

January 11, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

ELLICOTT CITY, MD. ? Brandon T. Morris' defense team doesn't dispute that a correctional officer was shot in the face during the early-morning hours of Jan. 26, 2006, or that Morris was involved in the shooting.

In fact, Morris is guilty of most of the crimes with which he is charged, defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli repeatedly told the jury Friday morning during opening statements in the former Roxbury Correctional Institution inmate's trial.

But Tuminelli argued that Morris, who faces the death penalty in the slaying of Jeffery A. Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., should not be convicted of first-degree murder because the shooting was not premeditated.

Morris, 22, of Baltimore, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, carjacking and other offenses stemming from the shooting of Wroten at Washington County Hospital and the abduction of a taxi cab driver.

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Attorneys finished selecting a jury for the trial Thursday, and opening statements began just before 10 a.m. Friday in Howard County Circuit Court.

Morris reiterated his not-guilty plea to more than 30 charges Friday morning.

He quietly gave one-word answers to Tuminelli's questions regarding the proceeding, replying that "yes" he pleaded not guilty to all charges and "true" that he wanted a jury trial.

Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael outlined for the jury the state's version of events on the morning when Wroten was shot in the face with his own gun.

Morris told Wroten he was going to kill him, and then shot him before briefly taking a hostage during his escape from the hospital, Michael said Friday morning.

Morris was taken to the hospital from Roxbury Correctional Institution after jabbing a needle into his own liver, Tuminelli said Friday.

Wroten, who worked as a correctional officer at RCI, accompanied Morris to the hospital.

Prosecutors on Friday demonstrated their version of the exchange between Morris and Wroten before the shooting, with State's Attorney Charles Strong lying on the floor depicting Wroten and Assistant State's Attorney John Dunlap crouching over Strong depicting Morris.

After the shooting, Morris briefly took a woman in the hospital hostage, then carjacked a taxi. He was found 30 minutes later near the Mason-Dixon Line, Michael alleged.

Tuminelli told jurors that their responsibility would be to determine whether Morris intended to escape, to rob Wroten of his gun and to kill the correctional officer.

The defense attorney also said that Wroten freed Morris from a shackle. One shackle was supposed to be on the inmate's leg and the other on the bed, Tuminelli said.

Morris could face the death penalty if the jury decides he is guilty of first-degree murder ? either by premeditation or during the commission of the robbery or escape.

Tuminelli said the jury will have to consider instead whether the gun went off during a struggle.

A retired Anne Arundel County jurist, Joseph P. Manck, is presiding over the trial.

Morris was serving an eight-year sentence for assault and weapons convictions when Wroten was killed.

Morris attempted a courtroom escape in May, after which a Howard County Circuit Court judge recused himself and the trial was postponed about six months.

Courtroom security was tight Friday, with about a dozen Howard County Sheriff's Department deputies and Division of Correction officers scattered throughout the room.

The Associated Press has reported that Morris is being held at the Maryland Correctional Center, also called Supermax, in Baltimore, and transported daily to Ellicott City for the trial.

Beneath a shirt and dark suit coat, Morris wore a remote-controlled electric stun belt that officers could use to disable him.

The state is to begin presenting evidence Monday morning.

Morris is also represented by Deputy District Public Defender Eric Reed and Harun Shabazz of the Office of the Public Defender's Capital Defense Division in Baltimore.

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