Accused murderer Dana Kessler took the witness stand Thursday and claimed he just happened to wind up in the back seat of Jeffrey Morgan’s car with a loaded gun on April 6, 2012, the day Morgan fatally was shot during a drug deal.
Except for his maintaining he never meant to shoot Morgan, his testimony was entirely different from what he told police after his arrest on April 8, 2012, when he said he had planned to rob the marijuana dealer.
On Thursday, he told the court he intended neither to rob Morgan nor to buy marijuana from him. The .45-caliber handgun that killed Morgan wasn’t even his, Kessler said — another suspect handed it to him as they met Morgan at Columbus’ Sands Apartments, 1213 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and asked him to try to sell Morgan the weapon.
He wasn’t pointing the gun at Morgan when it went off; he was handing it to him so Morgan could examine the firearm, he said. He didn’t throw the wounded Morgan out of the driver’s seat of Morgan’s Mazda and speed away in it with the intent of taking Morgan’s marijuana, he said: He was trying to help Morgan out, but Morgan collapsed in the apartments parking lot, after which another suspect took Morgan’s Mazda, he said.
Kessler, who moved to Columbus from New York in 2009, told a wide-ranging tale of how he came to be in the company of two strangers who placed him in the middle of a marijuana deal where he shot the dealer and fled, having never intended to take part in a drug deal, a robbery or a homicide.
On that Good Friday before Easter 2012, he was staying with a friend’s aunt on Doyle Avenue, where he was outside by his two cars when a passerby he later learned was Timothy Robinson stopped to admire them, he said.
Then Robinson asked for a ride, offering to pay him $15, Kessler said. He agreed, and they drove around before picking up a second man, Edward Love, whom Kessler said he also did not know. Robinson and Love directed him to a home on Torch Hill Road, where they changed clothes, and then the three went to a Circle K store on Fort Benning Road, where they bought him $10 in gas, and Robinson gave him $5. Then they had him drive them to the Sands Apartments, he said.
There Love offered Kessler $20 to try to sell the handgun to Morgan, claiming he knew Morgan too well to get a good price, but Kessler, whom Morgan didn’t know, might do better, he said. He agreed. He and Robinson got in the back seat of Morgan’s Mazda, where Morgan handed Robinson a bag of marijuana, and Robinson opened his door to get out. Kessler said he heard someone say, “Let me see it,” and thinking Morgan wanted to see the gun, pulled it out to hand it over, he said.
But the gun went off, and gunsmoke filled the car. “It was so black you couldn’t see anything,” Kessler said.
By then Robinson already had exited the Mazda. A front-seat passenger, Shatoric Hinton, who was buying marijuana from Morgan, got out and ran. The smoke cleared when Hinton opened his door, Kessler said.
Unaware Morgan was fatally wounded in the chest, Kessler got out of the car, opened the driver’s door and told Morgan to get out. “I can’t!” Morgan said through gritted teeth, Kessler testified. So Kessler grabbed him to help him out, he said, and Morgan took just two steps before collapsing.
Kessler said he then noticed the Mazda backing up, and saw that Love was in the driver’s seat. Robinson was about to drive away in Kessler’s Mitsubishi, so Kessler ran to it and got in the back seat. They went to Talley Avenue where Love, using a shirt to wipe fingerprints off the Mazda, cussed him out, Kessler said.
They left the Mazda and returned to Doyle Avenue, where they parted, he said.
Kessler testified that he never used drugs, and had been working two jobs to send money to his five children. He now has six, he said. “I’ve been living righteous,” he said.
That assertion was tarnished by his testifying that on Easter Sunday 2012, the night he was arrested, he had taken five prescription pills he got from a friend and consumed a fifth of Hennessy Cognac. Under cross-examination, he acknowledged that using someone else’s prescription medication is illegal.
He also admitted that in 2007, he was convicted of possessing cocaine in New York. Because he was a convicted felon, his having a firearm last year was illegal.
Also detectives arresting him at the Doyle Avenue residence found marijuana in the bedroom where he was sleeping and behind a freezer. Kessler said that marijuana wasn’t his: It belonged to the homeowner with whom he was staying. “I was unaware there was even weed in the house,” he said. His admissions to police the night of his arrest were the result of his intoxication and fatigue, he said. Detectives interrogated him for hours to get him to tell them what they wanted to hear, he said — of Detective Stuart Carter adding, “He coerced that whole conversation.”
Carter testified Wednesday that Kessler confessed to the shooting, though the suspect still claimed it was unintentional. On Thursday, Kessler denied making any confession. He just told police what they wanted so he could end the interview and get some sleep, he said.
He had been arrested about 10:30 p.m., and questioned from after midnight until 5:30 a.m. He was not booked into the county jail until 6:50 a.m. April 9, 2012, he said.
Unlike Kessler, codefendant Timothy Robinson, also on trial for murder, elected not to testify. Love also is expected to face charges in Morgan’s homicide, but currently he is being held in Russell County, where he’s charged with other offenses.
Both the prosecution and defense rested Thursday. Because of scheduling conflicts over the next few days, they are not to make closing arguments until Tuesday morning, after which the jury will begin its deliberations.