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Inmate's murder case goes to jury

The Baltimore Sun

A jury began deliberating late yesterday in the capital murder trial of Brandon T. Morris, who is accused of shooting a Washington County correctional officer in the face while attempting to escape from a hospital in 2006.

During closing arguments, a prosecutor told the jury in Howard County Circuit Court that Jeffery Wroten died for no "good reason" and described Morris as exceptionally "desperate" and "callous" to kill someone in the presence of caregivers.

Prosecutors sought to prove that Morris killed Wroten as part of his planned hospital escape, a felony murder that would make the defendant eligible for the death penalty.

Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael argued that for Morris to overwhelm Wroten, who weighed more than 400 pounds, and take his gun, the defendant would have had to come up with a plan. He likened the mismatch in size to that of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"I submit to you that a large, armed officer - trained officer - to be overcome by a relatively slight, unarmed, injured person - that the intent will become obvious to you," Michael told the jury, , describing Wroten as a "fun-loving giant."

"We may hear some fanciful story of a struggle. There's no evidence of that."

The defense said the prosecution's version of the events leading to the shooting in the hospital room is speculative.

"Because this case is so tragic, you can't give into that tragedy and simply convict him of any and every thing the state said he did," defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli said.

In his closing argument, Tuminelli repeated his argument that the testimony of the prosecution's key witness - a nurse who said she saw Morris crouch over Wroten just before the shooting and say "I'm going to kill you" - was too distraught to accurately recall the incident.

On Wednesday, Tuminelli presented a witness who testified that she was standing next to the nurse, Rachael Horner, as she stood at the door to the hospital room where Wroten was shot and that there was no way Horner could have seen what she claimed to see.

In his rebuttal, Michael said the nurse could not have known that Wroten had been shot in the face, as she reported to police, unless she had seen Morris crouched over Wroten.

Tuminelli also argued that it is impossible to tell whether Wroten had a part in the shooting because his hands were never tested for gunshot residue.

The jury, which deliberated for about 90 minutes, will return today to continue. If Morris is convicted of first-degree murder, the jury is to decide on a sentence.

Morris, 22, of Baltimore is charged with first- and second-degree murder, and with dozens of other charges in the shooting of Wroten and the subsequent escape.

Morris had been serving a seven-year sentence at Roxbury Correctional Institution for armed robbery and assault. He was taken to Washington County Hospital after he stabbed himself near the liver with a needle. Wroten was guarding Morris overnight at the hospital.

Wearing a dark gray suit with a blue dress shirt and no tie, Morris slouched in his seat during yesterday's closing arguments, as he has for much of the trial.

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