Dana Michael Kessler and Timothy Leshan Robinson each faces a sentence of life in prison for the murder of Jeffrey Morgan after a jury found them guilty Wednesday of the fatal shooting April 6, 2012, at Columbus’ Sands Apartments, 1213 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Jurors announced they had reached a verdict at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday, after five hours of deliberation. Their decision brought tears of gratitude and relief to Morgan’s family, his mother giving thanks to God as a court clerk read the verdict aloud.
Relatives declined to talk to reporters immediately afterward, feeling the moment was too emotional.
The jury declined to find the defendants guilty of malice murder, which would have meant they killed Morgan “with malice aforethought,” or intended to commit the homicide. But it found each guilty of felony murder for killing Morgan during the commission of other felonies.
Superior Court Judge William Rumer scheduled sentencing for 9 a.m. Thursday.
Testimony showed Robinson set up the meeting between Morgan and Kessler in the apartments parking lot so Kessler could buy marijuana from Morgan. Robinson and Kessler met Morgan there about 2:30 p.m., both getting into the back seat of Morgan’s Mazda.
Morgan handed Robinson a bag of marijuana, who showed it to Kessler and told him it was the same kind they’d had before. 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 claimed the gun discharged accidentally. The bullet tore through Morgan’s right arm and into his chest, crossing right to left and severing an aorta. Morgan bled to death internally.
A witness said Robinson fled in Kessler’s car, a Mitsubishi. Kessler got out of Morgan's Mazda, dragged the dying Morgan out of the driver’s seat, and drove away in Morgan's car. He, Robinson and a third suspect, Edward Trevor Love, then met on nearby Talley Avenue, where they got the marijuana out of Morgan’s car and left it running, driving off in Kessler’s car.
Police arrested both on April 8, 2012, Easter Sunday. Detectives questioned Kessler through the night, and he confessed in a statement he gave investigators at 5:30 a.m. that Monday.
Robinson claimed he only set up the drug deal and had expected no robbery, but Kessler told police Robinson advised him on how to pull it off, telling him Morgan was unarmed and would surrender any drugs or cash he had as soon as Kessler pointed the gun.
The third suspect, Love, was not on trial because he was arrested June 12 in Phenix City, and still faces charges in Russell County.
Kessler and Robinson faced multiple counts the jury had to sort through before rendering this mixed verdict:
Kessler was found guilty of felony murder for killing Morgan while committing the crime of aggravated assault by shooting him. On this count the jury chose to find Robinson guilty of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter. Both were found guilty on three counts of felony murder for killing Robinson while committing the crimes of armed robbery, assault with intent to rob, and marijuana possession.
Both were found guilty of two counts of aggravated assault, one count for shooting Morgan and a second count for shooting him with the intent to rob him.
Both were found guilty of using a firearm to commit a crime.
Robinson was found guilty of violating the Georgia Controlled Substances Act for trying to buy marijuana. Kessler was found not guilty on this count.
Both were found not guilty of armed robbery and hijacking a motor vehicle.
Kessler was found not guilty of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. Robinson was not charged with this offense.
Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey said Robinson faces a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. She said Kessler faces life without parole because he has a previous felony on his record, having been convicted in 2007 of possessing cocaine in New York.
Though their felony murder counts will be merged together for sentencing, their convictions for using a firearm to commit a crime carry a mandatory five-year sentence each has to serve consecutively to a life sentence, Dailey added.