Sands Apts. murder trial: Jury hears about final moments of victim's life

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 30, 2013 

Timothy Leshan Robinson, left, talks with his attorney Stacey Jackson Tuesday morning. Robinson and Dana Michael Kessler are charged in the 2012 shooting death of Jeffrey Morgan at the Sands Apartments in Columbus. 10/29/13

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

The jury in the murder trial of Timothy Leshan Robinson and Dana Michael Kessler heard Tuesday about the final moments of Jeffrey Morgan’s life as a witness and a medical examiner described his shooting and the damage it caused on April 6, 2012.

The witness was Shatoric Hinton, who in his white Chevy Tahoe met Morgan that afternoon in the parking lot of the Sands Apartments at 1213 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to buy marijuana, before Robinson and Kessler showed up in a car driven by Edward Trevor Love.

Hinton said he got out of his Chevy and into the front passenger’s seat of Morgan’s blue Mazda, where he was sitting when Robinson, Kessler and Love drove up in Kessler’s gray Mitsubishi. Kessler and Robinson got into the rear passenger seat of the Mazda, with Robinson behind Morgan and Kessler behind Hinton, the witness said.

He said Robinson picked up a bag of marijuana in the car and showed it to Kessler, who set it in a cup holder as Morgan bent over to sort through marijuana bags in the front floorboard. Hinton said Kessler then pulled a handgun from his right side and pointed it over the front seat at Morgan, who upon raising up and seeing the weapon begged Kessler not to shoot.

“Hold up, man. Don’t do that. Please don’t shoot me,” Hinton said Morgan told Kessler.

Then the gun went off.

Hinton said he got out and ran across the boulevard to a tire shop. Robinson ran to Kessler’s car and sped away with Love, Hinton said, leaving Kessler with the wounded Morgan.

Looking back across the street, Hinton saw Kessler get out of the back seat, walk around to the driver’s side, open the door, drag Morgan out and throw him to the ground, he said. Kessler got into the Mazda and sped off, running over Morgan as he left, Hinton said.

Police arriving at the apartments found Morgan, 25, had crawled halfway under Hinton’s Chevy. An officer said Morgan’s pants were pulled to his ankles, where plastic bags and loose marijuana lay on the ground. Morgan’s cell phone lay nearby.

The officer said he could hear Morgan gurgling, a sign of blood in his lungs. Morgan stopped breathing, though he still had a faint pulse. He was bleeding to death internally.

Medical examiner Steven Atkinson performed Morgan’s autopsy on April 7, 2012. He said the fatal shot entered Morgan’s right arm at the shoulder and punched through his chest, severing his aorta before it lodged in his left chest cavity. The bleeding was profuse, as Atkinson found about 60 percent of Morgan’s blood had drained into his chest, the examiner said.

Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey said Kessler later told police he ordered Morgan to get out of the driver’s seat after the shooting, but Morgan repeatedly responded, “I can’t! I can’t!” The blood already would have been filling his chest then, she said.

Dailey said Kessler drove Morgan’s Mazda to meet Robinson and Love on Talley Avenue, where they ditched Morgan’s car after getting marijuana out of the trunk.

A resident who saw them testified that as soon as the Mazda stopped, the driver got out, went to the trunk and took out a bag of marijuana as another man ran up and said, “Man, hurry up!” The two then fled in the Mitsubishi, in which the witness saw a third person in the back seat.

Dailey maintains Robinson set Morgan up for the robbery, conspiring with Kessler and Love to pull it off. But Stacey Jackson, Robinson’s defense attorney, argued Robinson was only a witness who had no inkling Kessler would kill Morgan.

Though Kessler, who recently had moved here from New York, did not know Morgan, Robinson and Morgan were friends who knew each other’s families, Jackson said, contending Robinson should not have been charged in the homicide.

Kessler’s attorney, Kathryn Rhodes, told jurors police pressured Kessler to sign a false confession after his arrest on April 8, 2012. Officers took him from his Doyle Avenue home about 10:30 p.m., finding him passed out after consuming pills and a fifth of Hennessy Cognac, she said. Detectives questioned him all night, yelling at him, telling him he was facing life in prison, threatening to hold him in jail for months if he didn’t give them a statement, she said. Finally at 5:30 a.m. the next day, an exhausted Kessler signed a confession, and police took him to jail, Rhodes said.

Besides murder, Kessler and Robinson face charges of aggravated assault, armed robbery, hijacking a motor vehicle, using a firearm to commit a crime and possessing marijuana.

Love, who was arrested this past June 12 in Phenix City, is not on trial because he still is being held on charges in Russell County.

Related stories:

Sands Apts. murder trial: Opening arguments expected Tuesday

Columbus police: Two charged in Friday homicide at Sands Apartments

UPDATE: 2 men charged with murder in Sands Apartments shooting ordered held without bond

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