Mistrial declared in armed robbery case

July 30, 2012|By DON AINES |
  • Lee Colby Morton
Lee Colby Morton

A witness’ testimony about facial tattoos Monday in Washington County Circuit Court resulted in a mistrial for a man charged in a 2011 armed robbery.

Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley granted a motion by defense attorney Andrea Chee-a-tow for a mistrial in the case of Lee Colby Morton, 38, of Hagerstown.

Assistant State’s Attorney Gina Cirincion said afterward that the state is considering whether to retry Morton in connection with the Dec. 16, 2011, robbery of United Petroleum at 890 Pennsylvania Ave. in Hagerstown.

The state was into its second witness, victim George Ghassemi, when he testified that one of the three men who robbed his business had tattoos on his face.

Morton has several facial tattoos.

Before the jury trial began, Chee-a-tow introduced a motion to prohibit Ghassemi and his wife, Candace, from identifying Morton from the witness stand because their initial identification was improper. Beachley granted the motion.

Cirincion explained to Beachley that the couple inadvertently identified Morton when they were being interviewed about the case. The couple saw a photo of Morton in an open case file that was “small and upside down, and both said, ‘That’s the guy who came behind the counter.’”

Candace Ghassemi testified that three armed men came into the station at about 7 p.m., one carrying a sawed-off shotgun, another possibly armed with a rifle and a third with a handgun.

The man with the handgun went behind the counter and told her to open the cash register, Candace Ghassemi testified. She pressed the store’s “panic button” and tried to stall him, she testified.

As she intentionally used the wrong set of keys on the register, the man told her to pretend she was ringing up a $20 purchase so the drawer would open, she testified.

“I rang up $2 trillion on the register so it would not open,” she testified.

The man eventually stole about $2,000 in cash the couple had and assaulted George Ghassemi, she testified. When that happened, she wrestled briefly with the man, and chased him and the other two when they fled the store, she testified.

In her opening statement, Cirincion told the jury the state had a witness who could connect Morton to the robbery. The state’s list of witnesses also included Noe Pelayo Torrez of Hagerstown, who pleaded guilty to armed robbery in connection with the holdup and is awaiting sentencing.

In her opening statement, Chee-a-tow said the defense would produce alibi witnesses to testify Morton was in a bar when the robbery took place.

“The state has the option to refile (the charges) and try the case again, or dismiss” the case, Chee-a-tow said afterward.

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