Sands Apts. murder trial: Jury still deliberating fate of accused killers

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 5, 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

A jury now decides whether Dana Kessler and Timothy Robinson go to prison for the April 6, 2012, fatal shooting of Jeffrey Morgan during a drug deal at Columbus’ Sands Apartments, 1213 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Jurors must determine whether Kessler intentionally or accidentally fired the .45-caliber bullet that went through Morgan’s right arm and into his chest, severing an aorta so Morgan bled to death internally.

They must ponder whether Kessler planned to rob Morgan, or whether as he claims, he was trying to sell Morgan the gun when it fired accidentally.

They must consider his attorneys’ claims that Kessler would not have confessed to robbing and shooting Morgan had he not been drunk and on prescription drugs the night detectives questioned him for four hours.

And they must decide whether Robinson’s role warrants his being convicted as an accomplice in a robbery and homicide, or whether he only set up a deal so Kessler could buy marijuana, not rob and shoot the dealer.

According to Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey, the proof Robinson and Kessler conspired to rob Morgan is evidenced by what they did immediately afterward:

They left in two separate cars — Robinson driving Kessler’s car and Kessler driving Morgan’s — and used Talley Avenue for a rendezvous where they left Morgan’s car after they got 2 or 3 ounces of marijuana from it. Then they fled in Kessler’s vehicle.

Dailey noted an eyewitness who saw the fatal shot fired testified he ran across the boulevard, looked back and saw Robinson and another suspect leave the apartments’ parking lot in Kessler’s gray Mitsubishi. Then he saw Kessler drag Morgan from the driver’s seat of Morgan’s blue Mazda and speed away in it, he said.

“How does Kessler, driving the victim’s car, know to go to Talley Avenue?” asked Dailey -- unless they planned it that way.

Kessler’s lawyer, Chief Public Defender Moffett Flournoy, said his client would not have planned to kill Morgan that way because he would not have planned to shoot someone with so loud a gun in the middle of the afternoon, in a public place, with a witness present.

“This has to be the dumbest way to commit a murder, if that’s what you’re intending to do,” Flournoy said.

According to court testimony, Robinson by cell phone set up the meeting between Kessler and Morgan in the apartments parking lot.

When Robinson and Kessler arrived in Kessler’s Mitsubishi around 2:30 p.m., Morgan already was dealing with another customer, Shatoric Hinton, who was sitting in the front passenger seat of Morgan’s Mazda.

Robinson got in the back seat behind Morgan; Kessler got in behind Hinton. A third suspect, Edward Love, stayed in Kessler’s car.

According to Hinton, Morgan handed a bag of marijuana to Robinson, who gave it to Kessler and said it was the same they’d had before. Kessler put the bag in a cup holder and pulled out the handgun, pointing it between the front seats at Morgan, who upon seeing the weapon begged Kessler not to shoot, Hinton said.

Then the gun went off. Hinton got out and ran. Robinson ran to Kessler’s car. Kessler got out of Morgan’s back seat, opened the driver’s door and told Morgan to get out. “I can’t!” Kessler told police Morgan screamed.

So Kessler pulled Morgan out, threw him to the ground and left in Morgan’s car, running over Morgan as he sped away, Hinton testified.

Kessler testified he was trying to help Morgan out of the car, but Morgan collapsed. Kessler said he then saw Morgan’s car moving and realized Love was leaving in it as Robinson started to leave in Kessler’s car. So Kessler ran to his Mitsubishi and got in the back seat, and then Robinson and Love drove the cars to Talley Avenue, Kessler said.

Robinson’s attorney, Stacey Jackson, has maintained his client did nothing more than set up a marijuana deal, and was merely a witness to the robbery and shooting that ensued. He had no gun and no marijuana.

As evidence Robinson was just a bystander, Jackson pointed to Kessler’s testimony that Robinson got out of Morgan’s Mazda and closed the door before the gun fired.

Dailey countered that Robinson was crucial to the whole set-up: “Kessler could not have done this without Timothy Robinson.” She noted Kessler in 2009 had moved here from New York, knew few local residents and only a few ways around town. He was dependent on Robinson’s guidance that Good Friday 2012, the day Morgan died.

She replayed video recordings of Kessler’s interview with police. “It was supposed to be a robbery-type thing,” Kessler told detectives. Calling the gun “the thing,” he told them Robinson had advised him Morgan would be unarmed and surrender whatever drugs or cash he had, as soon as Kessler “put the thing up.”

“That’s what I did. I put the thing up," Kessler added.

Referring to Robinson as “Buddy,” Kessler said of Morgan: “He gave Buddy the sack of weed. As soon as he gave him the weed, I pulled up the thing. And then, just pop!”

Flournoy told jurors they must weigh whether Kessler’s statement to police was “freely and voluntarily given” under the circumstances.

Kessler was questioned from 1:15 a.m. until 5:30 a.m. on April 9, 2012. He had been drinking and appeared half asleep in the recording of his interview, during which police threatened him repeatedly, Flournoy noted.

The video showed investigators also lied, telling Kessler that the other two suspects were in custody and talking to detectives about the shooting, and that nearby security cameras recorded Kessler at the crime scene.

“How can you believe a statement that is coerced with lies?” Flournoy asked.

One suspect still is not in Columbus police custody: Arrested this past June 12 in Phenix City, Edward Love is being held on charges in Russell County.

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.

Related stories:

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

Sands Apartments murder trial: Accused killer takes the stand

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