Morales Guilty of Contract Murder
A federal jury in Greenbelt has found Jose J. Morales guilty of arranging a contract murder of Robert Long, a former employee who had agreed to testify against him in state court in 2008.
The jury deliberated just a few hours after getting the case yesterday at about 3:30 p.m.
It’s a case with some strange facts, including a disbarred lawyer who testified that in April 2008 that defendant told him he had arranged a murder.
“He said, ‘I had Rob Long killed. I paid DMI [Dead Man Inc., the prison gang] $20,000,’” Stanley Needleman told the jury last week. “I took him by the arm. I said ‘You dumb motherfucker! What did you do that for? That was not necessary.’”
In her closing arguments Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson had told the jury that Morales, who was charged with using a telephone to arrange Long’s murder, asked for a “proffer”—and effectively wanted legal immunity (though that’s not really how it works) –before telling federal authorities what she described as “his confession.”
The characterization drew objections, and a motion for mistrial, from defense attorney Gary Proctor. Judge Roger Titus denied the motion.
With Morales, Wilkinson said, it was always, “what is in it for me?”
The government said that Morales, looking for a way to beat drug charges, dangled tidbits about the murder in front of federal agents ever since he was captured in Texas in August of 2008 with six kilos of cocaine. The stories were often wild but contained kernels of truth: a guy on a motorcycle picked up an ounce of coke; the killer was a member of Dead Man Inc.
In 2011, Morales told a federal agent that Long–Morales’ former employee who in 2008 had been set to testify against him in several theft cases in state court–was killed by “Troy and Junior,” that Troy had a small caliber gun, and that one or the other of them shot Long in the head twice, Wilkinson told the jury.
“How do you know that,” Wilkinson said the agent asked Morales, who replied that Troy Lucas had called him just a few minutes after the murder and told him all the details.
The government used the record of that telephone call—and more than a dozen others between Morales and the Lucas brothers, and Long’s roommate Harry White—to argue that Morales had to have set up the murder. They made the argument based on the timing of the calls, before and after the March 24, 2008 shooting. The feds had no wiretaps of the conversations, and little testimony from the people who Morales spoke to.
The circumstantial evidence, however, was impressive: more than 30 witnesses and 150 exhibits arranged in a mosaic, depicting an enraged, cold-blooded killer who not only arranged Long’s murder but also tried to put “hits” on other potential witnesses against him. After telling that agent in 2011 that the Lucas brothers were behind the Long murder, Morales got on a prison phone and called Harry White, a former employee who had housed Long.
Morales asked White to get him in touch with Troy Lucas—saying the matter was “life or death.” The prosecution suggested he was trying to get a story together with Lucas.
The defense attacked three witnesses who had said Morales admitted to them he had arranged the killing, saying that each of them—including his former lawyer, Needleman—were trying to avoid prison by making up a story.
Needleman served more than nine months (of a year-and-a-day sentence) in prison for tax evasion and money structuring, but he cut a deal to keep his wife out of prison, said John Zucker, one of Morales’s two lawyers.
“The only way out is to put someone else in,” Zucker said. He suggested—as Morales did to me in a phone conversation years ago—that Long was killed because he was in a high-crime area where “anything could happen.” He suggested that Lucas killed Long just because that’s what DMI guys do to snitches. He spent a lot of time arguing that it might have been Needleman who ordered the hit—a story that Morales told to federal agents when he was first arrested for drug smuggling in August 2008—and then recanted during his 2010 sentencing for that crime.
But the defense did not try to impeach a prosecution witness who came from state prison to testify that he had spent the night with Troy Lucas and Rob Long shooting cocaine. A man who, at the request of prosecutors, we’re calling “Davis,” was the last person known to have seen Long alive, except for Troy Lucas. Davis said Lucas asked him after Long died if he had ever killed a person. Davis testified that Lucas was a member of Dead Man, Inc., the prison gang that, as early as August of 2008, Morales told federal law enforcement agents was responsible for the killing.
As the lawyers summed up their cases, Morales’s mother watched impassively from a bench behind her son.
Wilkinson left a photo of Morales on a screen where the jury could see—a photo taken by City Paper photographer Ryan “RaRah” Stevenson in April of 2008 as Morales left court with Needleman. Of all the things Morales did say about the murder, she said, we have to remember what he did not say. Morales had, Wilkenson said, “not a shred of remorse or acknowledgement that on March 24, 2008, a man who had worked for him off and on for 15 years, a foreman–a friend, some would say–was murdered.” Instead, he said, “’My co-defendant ain’t around no more,’” Wilkinson said, quoting a City Paper story.
“This is a good day, April 17, 2008,” Wilkinson said, indicating the photograph. “This is a smirk day.”
Wilkinson changed the photo to one of Long, looking healthy and relaxed, long before he was killed. Long wanted to come clean with himself, she said. He wanted to break away from Morales and change his life on that Easter weekend. “You have to care what happened to Mr. Long in 2008,” she told the jury. People need to be able to be witnesses in court and tell the truth there, she said, and not be “executed in a littered field.”
Then Wilkinson echoed the first prosecution in Long’s murder, which resulted in a wrongful conviction. “Every single fact fits together like a puzzle,” she told the jury. “At the end of the movie you have the final piece.”
At sentencing Dec. 9 Morales faces
up to mandatory life in prison.