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Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Trial of the Killing of the Wesleyan Co-ed, Johanna Justin-Jinich, by Stephen Morgan--Was it cold-blooded Murder or the result of an Irresistible Impulse?

She asked Johanna if the chicken salad was good.  "It's okay but why don't I give you a sample to see for yourself," Johanna offered, helpfully, just moments before Johanna was gunned down in cold blood.

"How did Johanna seem that day, what sort of mood was she in?" asked State's Attorney Tim Liston on Thursday at the Stephen Morgan murder trial.  "She was in a good mood.  I think she was looking forward to Spring Fling that night.  And it was a warm Spring afternoon," replied Ms. McFee, who had graduated from Wesleyan, was now living in Chicago, and returned just to testify in the trial, where Stephen Morgan will try to convince the three-judge panel that he was insane when he pulled the trigger of his automatic handgun and pumped four rounds into the standing Johanna and then, for good measure, shot the handgun three more times into Johanna's body once it was lying on the floor of the Red and Black Cafe at the Broad Street Books bookstore at the corner of William and Broad Streets in Middletown, CT.

I felt moisture in my eyes at that moment, thinking back to the photos of Johanna Justin-Jinich in the Hartford Courant.  She was a beautiful girl, the product of a short doctor with pepper-gray hair and a close-cropped beard, and a taller mother.  Johanna was better-looking than either of her parents.  This sometimes happens.  Homely mother and father, very beautiful offspring.

Combining my recollection of Johanna's beauty, the thought of that beautiful Spring day when she was cut down in cold blood by an older man who was clearly obsessed with her, and the tragedy of it all, I felt a need to release some of the emotion through my tear ducts.  My vicarious grief was compounded by the presence of the two families in the two rows in front of me in the courtroom.  The Morgan clan was on my left and the Justin-Jinich family on my right.  Stephen Morgan sits in front of the bar at the defense counsel's table, on the left side of the courtroom.  His lawyers, Richard Brown and John Maxwell sit to his right.  Tim Liston, the State's Attorney sits on the right side, to the right of his investigator, Mr. Decostanzo. Dr. Jinich and Ms. Justin, Johanna's divorced parents, sit behind the prosecutor.

At the mention of Johanna's mood on May 6, 2009, just moments before Morgan pulled the trigger on the automatic weapon, her mother and father quietly wept.  A man to her mother's right began sobbing in a more audible way.  He and Johanna's mother got up and left the courtroom.  The man had been lightly massaging Ms. Justin's upper shoulders earlier that day. I figured he might be Johanna's stepfather, although he has a somewhat Middle-Eastern look, which also led me to wonder if he were Dr. Jinich's brother when I first saw him on day one of the trial.

One day earlier, Wednesday, November 30, 2011, the first day of the trial was the first time I saw Johanna's parents moved to tears.  It was during the testimony of the guy I told Susie she should have come to watch.  He was a tall, blonde man with close-cropped hair and dark brown rectangular glasses.  He was a state police officer assigned to the Eastern Major Crimes Division.  This man had handsome, TV star looks.  He looks like one of the actors on CSI, one of Susie's favorite tv shows.  His job was to collect the evidence at major crime scenes and insure there is no compromise or contamination of the evidence.

During his testimony, the prosecutor walked over to the court clerk, on the left side of the courtroom, and took out several large manila envelopes from boxes of evidence awaiting authentication by witnesses before it could be offered in evidence by the State through the prosecutor.  One-by-one the state CSI guy was permitted by the presiding judge on the three-judge panel, Susan Handy, to open the envelopes and, wearing white latex gloves provided by the prosecutor, remove each item and identify it to the judges.  The order of admission was the black tee shirt, the long brown woman's wig, a Cleveland Indians baseball cap, the black glasses, the computer case, the notebook inside the computer case, the expended bullet shells, the bullets, and the handgun.

When he held up the wig, I flashed back to Hitchcock's "Psycho."  I think Tony Curtis wore a woman's wig and dressed up in his mother's clothes in the movie.  Unless Stephen Morgan has a satanic sense of humor, he probably failed to see the "Psycho" allusion in his amateurish attempt to conceal his identity in the Red and Black Cafe the day he killed Johanna.  In "Psycho," Norman Bates kept the corpse of his dead mother in her bed in the haunted house next to the Bates Motel.  Stephen Morgan's mother is very much alive, sitting right in front of me as her son's misdeeds are publicly recorded on the third floor of the Middlesex County Courthouse.  His father, a bald-headed man of about 70 always sits at the end of the second row behind the bar.  He sometimes has his eyes closed during the more boring parts of the testimony, when witnesses are laying foundations for their testimony.  I wonder if he ever sees is son in his mind's eye as a small child growing up in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

It was when the blonde CSI guy removed the handgun from the cardboard evidence box that I first saw Johanna's father turn his head to the right as if he couldn't bear to look for long at the weapon which Morgan used to kill his daughter.  A ballistics expert later gave a matter-of-fact explanation of how the handgun was configured to move a fresh bullet into the firing chamber, how the hammer's point enters the chamber through a small hole, strikes the rear end of the bullet's metal casing, impacts and explodes the primer, which then ignites the propellant, which expands rapidly and through the high pressure thereby created propels the lead bullet out of the metal shell casing, into the gun's barrel, through the barrel and out into the world to hit the human target, when the gunmen is so inclined, as Stephen Morgan certainly was on May 6, 2009, just after the lunch time crush at the Red and Black Cafe.

Whatever grief Johanna's father was able to conceal up to that point spilled out in the tears from his eyes when he finally saw the instrumentality of his daughter's death.  And I too, at that moment, experienced his grief, vicariously, and my own eyes moistened up.  There they all were.  Both families: Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, who seem like nice people, their children and relatives, the Dr. Justin, Ms. Jinich, the doctor's second wife, and two female couples, one consisting of a young woman with Betty Davis eyes, very sultry-looking, with reddish-toned dyed hair and her bleached-blonde female friend, and the other consisting of a black-haired pixie haircutted woman and her taller female friend with tattoos which just barely show the tops of them over her rear neckline.

If we were not in the courtoom, where the judicial marshals make sure nobody makes too much noise, falls asleep, or otherwise disrupts the due process theater, I wonder if somebody would cry out at these moments for healing words by one or the other families to the other, to recognize their common humanity and the pain which Stephen Morgan's homicidal urges has laid on the house of Morgan as well as the house of Justin-Jinich.  Of course the pain of Johanna's family exceeds the Morgans'.  For Stephen Morgan is still alive and may well live a long life behind bars, whereas Johanna will never again kiss her father's cheek or be held in warm embrace by the mother in whose womb God knitted Johanna together.

I knew before the trial that Stephen Morgan had become obsessed by Johanna Justin-Jinich during the summer of 2007 when they were in the same summer school class at New York University.  The newspapers reported some of this history.  What I didn't know until yesterday's testimony is that Morgan stalked Johanna at least as early as December 12, 2008.  She was a Wesleyan junior.  He was living out of his car and in motels, including a motel in Cromwell, Connecticut, the next town north of Middletown, where Johanna was a student at Wesleyan.  A former Middletown Nissan mechanic testified yesterday that he recalled Stephen Morgan's name when he read in the papers about the shooting of Johanna at the bookstore.  He called the police and told them that Morgan had gotten his red Nissan Sentra repaired at the dealership on Newfield Street, about two miles north of Wesleyan.  The mechanic recalled that Morgan's car was full of stuff in the back seat, clothes and other items which made it look like he might have been living out of the car.  One thing particularly caught the mechanic's eye.  There was a long brown woman's wig on top of the mess in the back of the car.  The same wig as Morgan put on six months later when he entered the bookstore to kill the object of his obsession.

The dealership's service manager also testified.  The repair invoice was put in evidence.  It turns out that Morgan had no money to pay the bill.  So the dealership's driver took Morgan back to a Cromwell motel for the evening.  Morgan returned in the morning with enough cash to pay the bill and get his car back.

It was also December 2008 when emails offered in evidence by the prosecutor were exchanged by Morgan and Johanna.  Morgan wrote to her that he thought there failure to communicate meant that she might "need" him.  Johanna, whose Yahoo email address was, immediately wrote back to tell him to get out of her life.  Her Subject line was "Stop."  She couldn't understand how Morgan had found her new email address, as she had closed her Gmail account back in the summer of 2007 after Morgan wrote 37 pages of emails to Johanna and she filed a harrassment complaint with the New York police department.  She told him she didn't want to know him, didn't want to ever hear from him again, and would call the police if he tried to contact her again.  She called his prior emails psychotic and told him that women take self-defense classes to protect themselves against men like him.  At this point, both of Johanna's parents left the courtroom.  The repetition of this interaction between the killer and his prospective victim was too much for the parents to bear to hear.

The prosecutor and the defense attorney are real pros.  I haven't heard a single objection by either of them to the other's questions.  It's been a very non-contentious trial.  In large part that's because there's really no disagreement that Stephen Morgan did, in fact, kill Johanna.  What IS in dispute is his mental state at the time he pulled the trigger.  The psychiatrists will probably get to tell their competing stories about Morgan's mental health, next week.

There is a kind of preview of the respective positions of the defense and the State about Morgan's insanity or not at the time of the killing.  The preview takes place each time the defense lawyer cross-examines a witness who had any contact with Stephen Morgan in the bookstore after the shooting.  The defense lawyer emphasizes in his line of questioning that Stephen Morgan did not seem to be acting as a person who just killed someone with a gun.   The point seems to be that the defense will claim, as will their psychiatric experts, that Morgan may have dissociated during the killing incident and not even have been aware of his actions after he completed the killing.

When Tim Liston gets to ask questions on re-direct, he brings out the other side of the argument.  For example, the head of the Middletown Police Department SWAT team, which had been engaged in a training exercise about a mile from the bookstore, on the day of the attack, testified that he saw Stephen Morgan in the bookstore when the SWAT team got there.  By then, of course, Morgan by then had taken off the black tee shirt and put on a red Wesleyan tee-shirt.    He also had removed the wig and the dark glasses.  After Richard Brown, Morgan's lawyer, elicited the officer's view that Morgan didn't look like a man who had just killed someone and was trying to conceal his involvement in the killing, the prosecutor, Tim Liston, asked one simple question in response.  "Based on your training and experience as a police officer, does it seem to you that someone who wears a wig and conceals his identify before he committs a serious crime is trying to be open about his actions and exhibiting an attitude of not caring if somebody finds out what he just did?"  Of course the cop answered "No."

The differing approaches to the witnesses reveals the theme of each side in this case, even before their respective "hired gun" psychiatric experts testify.  For the defense, Morgan's actions show that he was out-of-touch with the consequences of his actions and, therefore, he was probably insane.  For the state, the actions of wearing a wig and false glasses, changing into other clothes after the shooting, and otherwise trying to conceal his identity, shows that Morgan is a cold-blooded, calculated, rational killer.

On this point, it matters not what you and I think about his case.  All that counts is THIS jury's decision.

The trial continues on Tuesday.  A verdict is expected to be reached before Christmas time.

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