RIVERSIDE – With jurors at an impasse on what sentence to recommend, a mistrial was declared today in the penalty trial of a gang member who gunned two people in a racially motivated attack at a Riverside house party.
Arsenio Devo Morgan, 23, was convicted June 10 of murdering 18-year-old Salvador Soliz and 16-year-old Ramiro Sanchez.
After deliberating one day, the six men and six women who convicted the defendant informed Riverside County Superior Court Judge Edward Webster that they could not overcome an 8-4 split in favor of capital punishment, prompting Webster to declare the panel hopelessly deadlocked.
The judge dismissed the jurors and scheduled a status conference for July 18, when the District Attorney’s Office will announce whether it intends to proceed with another penalty phase. If the prosecution elects not to do so, Morgan will automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During closing statements Tuesday, defense attorney Ryan Markson played up the fact that his client was only two months into his 18th year when he killed Sanchez and Soliz on the night of Dec. 13, 2008.
”What I see here is a child, not an irredeemable monster,” Markson said.
The attorney said Morgan was immature, parentless and ”warped” by the ”glorified” gang lifestyle” when he made the decision to kill the victims.
Deputy District Attorney Chris Cook assailed the defense’s attempt during the penalty trial to turn Morgan into a ”character from a Charles Dickens novel,” pointing to opportunities that the defendant had to leave a life of crime.
”But he relished the gang life,” Cook said. ”He killed not in the heat of passion or out of anger; he did it for some absurd notion of winning fame and respect.”
Cook cited the testimony of jail inmates and Morgan’s former associates — all of whom underscored the defendant’s penchant for ”bragging” about his crimes, especially the murders.
According to the prosecutor, Morgan posed a heightened ”danger to society” because he had elevated status and was instructing other gang members on how to ”kill Mexicans.”
”The only way to stop him from victimizing people is to impose a death sentence,” Cook said.
Morgan was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and special circumstance allegations that he perpetrated the killings for the benefit of a criminal street gang and took multiple lives in the same crime. It was his second trial after a jury in March deadlocked 8-4 in favor of conviction.
The prosecution argued that Morgan killed the victims to gain rank in an all-black gang long at war with an all-Hispanic gang. Neither victim was a gang member.
The defendant went to a birthday party at 1844 Enterprise Ave., near the UC Riverside campus, and opened fire on a group of people listening to music in the driveway, emptying his .38-caliber revolver before fleeing the scene.
The case went cold until an inmate heard Morgan boasting about getting away with the crime and informed on him. By that time, Morgan had begun serving a six-year prison sentence for a home invasion robbery.
Prosecutor: Man deserves death because he’s a menace
RIVERSIDE – A gang member who killed two people at a Riverside house party should be sentenced to death because he’s a danger to society and promotes violence, a prosecutor said today, but a defense attorney argued the defendant was young when he committed the racially motivated crime and was ”not an irredeemable monster.”
”The death penalty is for the worst of the worst,” defense attorney Ryan Markson told jurors in his closing statement in the penalty trial of Arsenio Devo Morgan. ”What I see here is a child, not an irredeemable monster. He was barely 18 years old when this happened. He hadn’t lived long enough to be the worst of the worst.”
Markson asked the six-man, six-woman jury to consider that Morgan ”had no mother, no father and no real love,” leading him to embrace the gang lifestyle and culminating in the murders of 18-year-old Salvador Soliz and 16- year-old Ramiro Sanchez in 2008.
”Is my client less blame-worthy than someone who had real opportunities and was capable of making a decision not to get into this type of life? Recognize that the choices he made were warped by this glorified gang lifestyle,” Markson said. ”If you have any inkling of doubt, you must vote for life in prison without parole. A vote for death is a last resort.”
Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Chris Cook assailed the defense’s attempt during the penalty trial to turn Morgan into a ”character from a Charles Dickens novel.”
”Sure, Arsenio had it rough, but so do a lot of other foster kids,” Cook said. ”He did have a loving mother, even if she was only there for him until he was 14. He had a mentor who served as a positive role model. But he relished the gang life. He killed not in the heat of passion or out of anger; he did it for some absurd notion of winning fame and respect.”
Cook recited the testimony of jail inmates and Morgan’s former associates, all of whom underscored the defendant’s penchant for ”bragging” about his crimes — especially the murders.
”Worse still, once he becomes one of the ‘big homies,’ he starts telling others how to kill,” Cook said, noting that letters and recorded phone conversations revealed how Morgan would outline the best methods for fellow gang members to ”kill Mexicans.”
”He’s a danger to society,” the prosecutor said. ”The only way to stop him from victimizing people is to impose a death sentence.”
Cook also argued that Morgan never showed ”any remorse or compassion” for the loved ones of those he killed.
”During the trial, every chance he got, he turned around, made eye contact and smiled at Salvador’s mother — and not in a nice way,” Cook said. ”He’s cold-blooded.”
The same jury considering Morgan’s punishment convicted him June 10 of two counts of first-degree murder and found true special circumstance allegations hat he perpetrated the killings for the benefit of a criminal street gang and took multiple lives in the same crime. It was Morgan’s second trial; a jury in March deadlocked 8-4 in favor of conviction.
The prosecution argued that Morgan killed the victims on the night of Dec. 13, 2008, to gain rank in an all-black gang long at war with an all- Hispanic gang. Neither victim was a gang member.
Cook said the defendant was dispatched to a birthday party at 1844 Enterprise Ave., near the UC Riverside campus, and went there with the intent to kill.
Morgan testified that he was hoping to ”meet girls,” but when he and a teenage friend arrived at the house, they were stopped by seven male Hispanics, who told him he would have to be searched.
According to the defendant, he felt ”challenged” and declared his gang affiliation. He said one of his interrogators appeared to reach for a pistol, at which point the defendant said he pulled his .38 and opened fire, emptying the revolver, then running away.
The case went cold until an inmate heard Morgan boasting of getting away with the crime and informed on him, according to testimony. By that time, Morgan had begun serving a six-year prison sentence for a home invasion robbery.