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Defense attorney: Go ahead, convict him

Tuminelli says Morris is guilty of most charges but not first-degree murder

Tuminelli says Morris is guilty of most charges but not first-degree murder

January 17, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

ELLICOTT CITY, MD. ? "Go ahead, convict him," a defense attorney told the jury Thursday during closing arguments in the trial of Brandon T. Morris, who is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting death of a correctional officer at Washington County Hospital in January 2006.

Jurors should check "guilty" for most of the charges against Morris, defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli said. But the defense maintains that Morris is not guilty of premediated first-degree murder or either of the felony murder charges.

"At best, this is second-degree murder," Tuminelli said.

If the jury finds Morris guilty of first-degree murder, he could face the death penalty.

Jurors were sent home Thursday night and will reconvene at 9 a.m. today. Deliberations began Thursday after more than three hours of closing arguments.

Morris, 22, of Baltimore, also is charged with kidnapping, carjacking and other offenses stemming from the Jan. 26, 2006, shooting of Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery A. Wroten, the escape that followed and the abduction of a taxi cab driver.

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Prosecutors contend Morris shot Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., as part of a calculated escape plan that began when he jabbed a sewing needle into his liver at RCI and sought medical help. Morris was serving an eight-year sentence for assault, robbery and handgun convictions at the time of the shooting.

Michael focused on difference between men's sizes

During his closing arguments Thursday, Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael focused on convincing the jury that Morris planned the shooting and escape. The state must prove the shooting was premeditated, willful and deliberate for a jury to convict on the premeditated first-degree murder charge.

Michael focused on the vast size difference between the men.

"It's clear and obvious that the defendant would have had to be deliberate," Michael said as he showed the jury a photograph of Wroten, who weighed 430 pounds. Morris, who weighed 175 pounds when he was admitted to the hospital, wouldn't have been able to disable the correctional officer without careful planning, Michael said.

"Man-to-man, he couldn't best him" the prosecutor said.

Morris was biding his time, waiting a chance for a surprise attack, Michael argued. The only way a small foe can take down a larger force is through careful planning, Michael said, citing Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11 as occasions when a small force succeeded through careful planning and the element of surprise.

After the shooting, Morris grabbed a hospital visitor, and demanded her purse and keys, the woman testified Tuesday.

Michael: Fatal wound another indication of premeditation

Quickly taking a hostage was another indication of Morris' planning, prosecutors said. He waited for more people to arrive to coincide with his escape attempt so he could grab a hostage with car keys and take their vehicle, Michael alleged.

Wroten's fatal wound gave indication of premeditation, Michael argued. The bullet entered Wroten's left cheek and traveled down to the top of his spinal chord, Michael said, reminding the jury of testimony by an assistant medical examiner.

Morris would have had to be above Wroten for the bullet to enter that way. Since Morris was smaller than Wroten, the inmate would have first knocked the officer down before shooting him, Michael alleged.

Defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli called Michael's arguments "frivolous speculation" and attempted to cast doubt on one of the state's witnesses, nurse Rachael Yeagy Horner. Horner testified Monday she had seen Morris crouching over Wroten, holding a gun to the officer's head. She heard Morris say to Wroten, "I'm gonna kill you, you (expletive)," a split second before the gun fired, she testified.

Tuminelli says witness' testimony was inaccurate

Horner testified that Wroten's body was about five feet from where other witnesses put the body, Tuminelli argued during his closing.

"They're asking you to convict him of a capital offense ... and Rachael (Horner) is not enough," he said.

A defense witness, Kristi Miller, testified Wednesday she thought Horner was running behind her when the gun fired. Had she been running, Horner would not have seen the shooting, the defense attorney said.

Miller also testified that Horner said "they are shooting," which would indicate a struggle, Tuminelli said. Tuminelli called Horner's testimony a classic example of "misidentification," which is when people fill in the details of a stressful situation.

Tuminelli argued that taking Wroten's gun, shooting him and the escape were not planned.

"He decided to escape when all hell broke loose ... and that's when the gun went off," Tuminelli said.

Morris was "like a scared animal," the defense attorney said, running through fields in his boxer shorts after the cab he hijacked crashed near the Mason-Dixon line.

Jurors needed to focus on the three capital offenses, the defense said.

"You should pause when we start talking about the death penalty," Tuminelli said.

Retired Anne Arundel County jurist Joseph P. Manck is presiding over the trial, which was moved from Washington County to Howard County, a right granted to anyone in Maryland who faces a possible death penalty.

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