GREENBELT — — A woman came face to face Monday with the man who paid a gang hit man to murder her son, as a federal judge sentenced Jose Morales to life in prison.
As Grace Bouvier spoke of how her granddaughter was left without a father, Morales, convicted in October in the murder Robert Long, thrust his darkly bearded chin in the air and watched her talk.
"I don't know why Mr. Morales had my son murdered," Bouvier said, cutting short her comments after being overcome by emotion. It had been a long journey for Bouvier, who sat through a state trial in which jurors wrongly convicted another man of killing Long in a fight over drugs.
Evidence that came later in the federal case indicated Long was killed because he had agreed to testify against Morales, 38, his co-defendant in a state theft case.
To its final moments, the case highlighted the specter of violent retribution facing those who cooperated with law enforcement. Despite being on trial in Long's killing, prosecutors said, Morales carried on campaign of intimidation in an attempt to silence people who planned to testify about the murder.
He called one witness "a dead man walking," according to a letter prosecutors submitted at the hearing, and he threatened to stab another. The witnesses' names were redacted in court documents.
At the same time, Morales tried to feed information to authorities investigating Long's murder, identifying a triggerman and accurately describing the crime scene. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson said she briefly confused those attempts to protect himself with Morales wanting to do the right thing.
"I for a moment actually believed there was a heart or some remorse he experienced," Wilkinson said.
Morales' attorneys, who otherwise said little, said their client had not been cooperating with the government and that they worried he might be returned to federal prison branded a snitch. The defense unsuccessfully urged U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus to redact any reference to Morales' conversations with authorities from the transcript.
Prosecutors named a suspected gunman at Morales' trial, but he has not been charged. Authorities say he walked Long out to a set of train tracks in Southwest Baltimore in the early hours of March 24, 2008, and shot him on Morales' orders.
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Titus had no discretion over the sentencing because the law required him to impose a life term. But he said the outcome was fair and that he would recommend the Bureau of Prisons hold Morales in a special unit designed to limit his ability to communicate with the outside world, as Morales had been convicted of smuggling heroin into another prison.
"The mandatory minimum is certainly not excessive here. … The nature and circumstances of this offense are horrific," Titus said. "The actions of this defendant were an assault on the criminal justice system."
Morales is appealing the heroin smuggling conviction and has asked for a new trial. One of his lawyers said he will also appeal the murder conviction.
In addition to those two cases, Morales also is serving a lengthy sentence for another federal drug conviction, and Titus said that while Morales had long "enjoyed a career of crime without too much in the way of apprehension or punishment," the three sentences mean "it is not likely he will ever be released."
An earlier version misstated the name of U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus. The Sun regrets the error.