It’s as if one bullet took three lives.
First it took Jeffrey Morgan, 25, fatally shot about 2:30 p.m. April 6, 2012, in the parking lot of Columbus’ Sands Apartments, 1213 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
That single gunshot destroyed two more young men’s lives Thursday as those convicted of Morgan’s murder were sentenced to life in prison :
Timothy Robinson, 20, accused of setting up the drug deal and robbery where Morgan was shot, was sentenced to life with parole possible in 30 years, meaning he will spend more time in prison than he so far has lived free.
So will Dana Kessler, 28, accused of firing the fatal shot as he robbed Morgan of 2 or 3 ounces of marijuana. Kessler was sentenced to life without parole, plus five years for using a firearm to commit a crime. Superior Court Judge William Rumer sentenced the two after a hearing on the verdict a jury delivered Wednesday and the effect of their crime. Among those describing the lingering impact of Morgan’s murder was his mother.
“I still can’t believe it,” Gloria Morgan said of losing her oldest son. She said she “can’t find hate in her heart” for the two men convicted of killing him, but they needn’t have tried to rob him. “Whatever they needed, he would have given them,” she said.
“I raised my son to have respect for himself and for other people,” she added. That’s why he had no weapon the day he was killed, she said: He was taught to avoid guns and violence.
Her remaining son Jermaine Morgan, 25, a Columbus State University basketball forward who’s about to graduate with a degree in criminal justice, said the defendants’ families will lose them to prison, but they will live. Nothing will restore his brother’s life.
“The only way I can see my brother now is in a picture or in a dream,” he said.
Robinson’s mother, Shantel Brooks, said all three young men were wrong in what they did that day: Robinson for setting up a drug deal, Morgan for selling drugs, and Kessler for shooting Morgan.
But it is Morgan whose family will never see him again: “I just want to apologize to the family,” she said.
The defendants also addressed the court, expressing remorse for what happened.
“I am sorry. I am sorry,” Kessler repeated. “I know these words will not bring anyone back or change anything.”
Said Robinson: “I just want to apologize to the victim’s family. If I could go back and change what happened, I would, but I can’t.”
What happened, according to trial testimony, was that Robinson set up a rendezvous where Morgan was to sell Kessler marijuana. Accompanied by Edward Love, Kessler and Robinson traveled in Kessler’s gray Mitsubishi to meet Morgan in the Sands Apartments parking lot.
When they arrived, they found Morgan already dealing with another customer, Shatoric Hinton, who was sitting in the front passenger’s seat of Morgan’s blue Mazda. Robinson and Kessler got in the back seat, leaving Love in Kessler’s car.
Morgan handed a bag of marijuana back to Robinson, who handed it to Kessler. Kessler set the bag in a cup holder, pulled out a .45-caliber handgun and pointed it between the front seats at Morgan, who begged him not to shoot.
Kessler said the gun fired accidentally. The bullet went through Morgan’s right arm and into his chest. He bled to death.
When the gun fired, Robinson got out and ran back to Kessler’s car, in which he and Love sped away. Hinton said he ran across the boulevard, looked back and saw Kessler get out of the Mazda’s back seat, open the driver’s door, pull Morgan out and leave in Morgan’s car.
The three suspects met on Talley Avenue, where they got the marijuana out of Morgan’s car and left it running as they fled in Kessler’s Mitsubishi.
Robinson and Kessler were arrested two days later. Love was arrested June 12 in Phenix City and still is being held on charges there. The jury Wednesday did not find Robinson or Kessler guilty of “malice murder,” which would have meant they intended to kill Morgan “with malice aforethought.” The jury found them guilty of felony murder for causing Morgan’s death as they committed other felonies such as armed robbery, aggravated assault and drug possession.
Defense attorneys stressed the jury’s choice during the sentencing hearing, noting Kessler admitted shooting Morgan, but always maintained it was unintentional. Neither he nor Robinson meant for Morgan to die, attorneys said.
Morgan’s death inspired his younger brother to write a book about his experiences and counsel other young people about the choices they face. After court adjourned Thursday, he talked about the emotions he felt as he watched Kessler and Robinson being sentenced.
“I’m glad that justice has been served, but at the same time, it doesn’t take away the pain. It doesn’t bring my brother back,” he said. “Like Timothy’s mother said, they’re still going to be able to see their kids. They may not like the environment or the situation that they’re in, but one day, Timothy Robinson may possibly have a chance to come back, being rehabilitated, and go on with his life. My brother doesn’t have that opportunity.”
The crime and punishment pose a “lose-lose” situation in which he finds no comfort, he said: “My brother’s life is gone. Kessler, he will never see the light of day again. Robinson, it’s a possibility he will spend more of his life behind bars than he will in the free world.”
It’s a lesson for others still in their youth, he said: “You’ve only got one shot at this. You can’t take back time. No one wants to spend their life behind bars, but these are the consequences that come along with actions.”
His book is available at www.destinychildbook.com. The website includes a “special thanks” page where Jermaine Morgan writes:
“My brother was and always will be my biggest supporter. Without him this book would not be possible because he is the one who taught me how to be a man, and never give up. I believe every young man should have someone like him in their life. Every individual should have someone in their corner pushing them to do better, and see their full potential. It is never to late to make a change.”