By CHRISTINE DEMPSEY, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
8:40 PM EST, December 16, 2011
Stephen Morgan was insane when he deliberately shot and killed Wesleyan University student Johanna Justin-Jinich in 2009 and therefore is not guilty of murder, a three-judge panel ruled Friday.
The verdict was announced at Superior Court after seven days of testimony and less than an hour and a half of deliberation.
"I think it's a just verdict, based on the evidence," said John Maxwell, one of two lawyers representing Morgan. "Look, there's no good ending for anyone in this. It's a horrible tragedy that befell two very, very nice families."
Morgan also was found not guilty, by reason of mental disease or defect, of two other charges against him: intimidation due to racial bigotry or bias, and possession of a pistol without a permit.
He didn't show any emotion when the verdict was announced. He nodded when his other defense attorney, Richard Brown, leaned over and told him that he was not going back to jail.
Morgan, from Marblehead, Mass., will be sent to the maximum-security Whiting Forensic Division of Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown for 60 days, during which he will be evaluated. The judges will meet Feb. 29 to decide how long he should be committed to Whiting.
The 32-year-old Morgan could be committed for up to 75 years. Lawyers on both sides said it was highly unlikely that he would be released after just 60 days.
Still, the mayor of Middletown, Daniel T. Drew, blasted the judges in a press release, calling the verdict "another tragic example of a calculating killer abdicating responsibility for the life he's destroyed."
"It is astounding that the man, who killed a young girl in cold blood, could be released to us as soon as 60 days from now," Drew said. "The city of Middletown will take every avenue possible to block Morgan's release."
The panel was made up of Judge Susan B. Handy, who was the presiding judge, and Judges Julia L. Aurigemma and James M. Bentivegna.
They found that Morgan deliberately gunned down Justin-Jinich, 21, on May 6, 2009, as she worked behind the counter of the Red & Black Cafe in Broad Street Books, two blocks from the Wesleyan campus. He had mental lapses as early as kindergarten, but was not properly diagnosed and treated until after the homicide, according to testimony.
"The key was the fact that the psychiatrist hired by the state of Connecticut found that my client could not, in fact, conform his actions to the law," Brown said. "The state could not produce one person in over 21/2 years" who could testify that he wasn't suffering from a mental defect.
Asked if Morgan's family had any regrets that he didn't get more help sooner, Brown said, "In hindsight, who wouldn't have regrets?"
Brown said that Morgan's family was glad that he will be in a facility where he can get the help he needs.
"Their heart goes out to the family of the victim," Brown said. "It was very difficult for them to go to court every day and see the family of the victim."
Morgan's father, James Morgan, declined to comment about the verdict, as did representatives of Justin-Jinich's family and Wesleyan University. Some Wesleyan students got stuck in a courthouse elevator right before the verdict was announced.
"I do feel that at the end of the day, society is better off having him treated in a mental health facility than simply locked up in a prison with no help," Brown said.
Prosecutor Timothy J. Liston said he was disappointed that he couldn't convince the panel that Morgan was guilty.
"This is a very experienced, very qualified panel of judges, so I can't argue the finding," he said.
Justin-Jinich's immediate family members, who are from Colorado, were not at the courthouse to hear the verdict, but a statement from her father, Daniel Jinich, was distributed before it was announced.
"My family and I have been in Connecticut these past three weeks," Jinich wrote. "During this difficult time, we were moved by the outpourings of kindness and gentleness expressed by many people in Middletown who we did not know but who in their own way reached out to us to express sympathy and compassion."
Liston presented the judges with 37 witnesses and more than 100 exhibits that pointed to Morgan as the shooter. Wearing a disguise, Morgan walked up to the cafe cash register and shot Justin-Jinich seven times, according to testimony. He tumbled down a steeply sloping conveyor belt to the basement, pointing the gun at startled workers in a storage room.
Surveillance cameras captured his movements around the building both before and after he shed his wig, baseball cap, glasses and shirt and blended in with students. He also left behind the gun and a laptop computer that had his name in it.
His DNA was found on the wig, hat and shirt, a forensic scientist testified.
In the computer case was a journal that contained writings about a killing spree targeting Jewish people and "beautiful and smart" Wesleyan students. Justin-Jinich was Jewish; her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor.
The journal — in a composition notebook — also said: "Kill Johanna. She must Die."
After talking to three police officers, a calm Morgan walked away from the bookstore, but he turned himself in at a Meriden convenience store the next night; the campus had been locked down the whole time.
Less than two months later, while talking with a psychiatrist in jail, he admitted that he shot Justin-Jinich.
In a low-toned voice lacking emotion, he told Dr. Howard Zonana, "I shot her," during a videotaped session.
The psychiatrist was one of three mental health professionals to testify that Morgan appears to be a delusional, paranoid schizophrenic who was obsessed with Justin-Jinich and came to believe that she posed a threat to him and his family. The two had met at New York University, where they took a summer course in 2007; according to testimony, they spent only 10 hours or less together, and the relationship was not romantic.
Morgan sent Justin-Jinich nearly 40 emails that summer that were alarming enough to prompt her to call the New York City police. The police told him to knock it off and he did, until December 2008, when he popped back into her life with an email that sparked an angry reply. At the time, Morgan thought that she was stalking him and "watching him through a computer," a psychiatrist testified Wednesday.
The same psychiatrist said Morgan told him that, "I think she didn't like the idea of being rejected by me," when, in reality, quite the opposite was true. She had rejected Morgan.
Morgan told a psychiatrist that he wore a disguise because he was afraid people would recognize him from a video that was secretly recorded and put out on the Internet.
During closing arguments, Liston said he didn't believe that. He said Morgan wore a disguise so that he could "sneak up on" Justin-Jinich, who had told him in the angry email that she wouldn't hesitate to defend herself if she saw him again.
"He blasts away and kills that young lady because he knows that's what he wanted to do for months," Liston said. A former auto technician from a Middletown shop testified that Morgan's car, which had Colorado plates, was there for repairs in December of 2008, five months before the shooting. It had a wig inside, he said.
"His fear is that he's a loser. He's a failure," Liston said. "She's everything that he hates. She's successful. She's beautiful. She's intelligent. She's Jewish."
A junior from Timnath, Colo., Justin-Jinich had studied abroad in Spain, and had lined up a summer internship with a woman's organization on Capitol Hill in Washington. She has been described as a smart, witty and popular student who never seemed to be in a bad mood.
The day she died was no exception.
"She was in a great mood," classmate Margaret McFee testified during the trial. McFee ordered some lunch that day and spoke to Justin-Jinich before moving to a different part of the bookstore. The two had talked about papers they had either completed or were about to finish.
Witness Susan Gerhardt revealed a little more about Justin-Jinich's personality when she described how the cafe worker recommended against buying the pasta salad.
"She told me it was not one of her favorites," Gerhardt said.
Justin-Jinich got her a sample of the pasta so she could try it. Gerhardt did, and was letting a friend try a taste when the shots rang out. Justin-Jinich dropped to the floor behind the counter.
The verdict brings to a close a difficult chapter in Wesleyan's history, and that of the bookstore and cafe, which are rented from the university.
During the trial, the Red & Black Cafe posted a message of encouragement on its website for its staff members, some of whom had to relive the shooting when they testified:
"While the next few days will be difficult, we are very proud of our staff at RBC and our thoughts continue to be with all of JJJ's family and friends."
Courant staff writer Shawn Beals contributed to this story.