BY KEN LITTLE
The U.S. Supreme Court will determine when convicted bank robber Larry Shane Morgan is sentenced in U.S. District Court in Greeneville.
Morgan, 36, was found guilty by a jury in October of armed bank robbery and five other crimes associated with the July 2, 2012, hold-up of a Greeneville Federal Bank branch and the June 28, 2012 robbery of the Stop & Go Convenience Market in Chuckey.
He was scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 26. But because of a legal question currently being decided by the Supreme Court, the sentencing date was continued last week to June 6.
Delay or not, Morgan is looking at a prison sentence of at least 35 years, said U.S. Attorney J. Gregory Bowman, lead prosecutor in the case.
In continuing Morgan's sentencing date, Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan is hoping that the Supreme Court will rule on a case called Alleyne v. United States by the June sentencing date.
IMPACT ON MORGAN CASE
The ruling in that case will determine what sentence Jordan can impose on Morgan, Bowman said.
The Supreme Court must determine whether it's up to the jury or a judge to decide if a defendant merely possessed a firearm during a robbery, brandished a weapon, or actually fired it.
Each circumstance increases the prison sentence -- from five, to seven, to 10 years -- with a 25-year sentence added for firing a gun during a second robbery, Bowman said.
Testimony at Morgan's trial showed he committed all three actions in both robberies.
"It's a sentencing issue," Bowman said of the case before the Supreme Court.
A Virginia jury found Allen Alleyne guilty of robbery under a federal statute, but the jury didn't find him guilty of brandishing a weapon during the robbery.
A federal criminal statute provides that a judge can raise the mandatory minimum sentence for robbery with a finding that it was more likely than not that the defendant brandished a firearm.
That means a judge's finding can raise the mandatory minimum prison sentence even when a jury was unable to come to that same conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Supreme Court allowed such findings from judges in a previous case called Harris v. United States.
With the Alleyne case, the court will reconsider that position or have the opportunity to further clarify how much sentencing discretion can be given to judges under federal statutes.
Meanwhile, Morgan, formerly of Chuckey, remains in federal custody awaiting sentencing.
In addition to armed bank robbery, Morgan was found guilty of five other charges: aiding and abetting a robbery affecting interstate commerce; aiding and abetting the use, carrying, brandishing or discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; using, carrying or brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and being a felon in possession of ammunition.
He could receive what amounts to an effective life sentence for the crimes. The two firearms possession counts alone carry minimum sentences of 35 years, Bowman said at the conclusion of Morgan's trial.
Two other co-defendants in the case, Kaylen Butcher and Brandon Shelton, both 19, were recently sentenced in federal court for their roles in assisting Morgan.
Butcher, who was with Morgan during the Stop & Go robbery, received a five-year prison sentence on convictions of robbery and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.
Shelton, who helped dispose of evidence and initially lied to FBI investigators about his role, was given three years' probation on a conviction of making a false statement in a matter within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government.
Butcher and Shelton offered prosecution testimony at Morgan's trial. That, and their youth, mitigated toward a lighter sentence for each, court officials have said.
IN CUSTODY SINCE JULY
Morgan, a convicted felon, was arrested on July 3, 2012, outside a motel in Johnson City. He fired a gun during both robberies, first at the Stop & Go Market, at 6910 East Andrew Johnson Hwy., and a few days later at the Greeneville Federal Bank branch at 2305 E. Andrew Johnson Hwy.
Prosecution evidence and trial testimony showed Morgan was carrying more than $25,000 in cash when he was taken into custody.
He was carrying several marked bills from the bank placed into a bag by a teller, and two money bands stamped with the bank's name, including one dated July 2.
Morgan's black Chevrolet pickup truck was identified in the Greeneville Federal Bank parking lot just before the robbery took place, and was parked outside the Stop & Go Market in Chuckey on the night of June 28, when the armed robbery happened at that business.
A bank employee testified that she drove by Morgan's truck just before the July 2 robbery. That same employee had helped Morgan get a loan for the truck and recognized it after the robbery, testimony showed.
The Stop & Go employee who was struck with a handgun by Morgan during the June 28 robbery testified he looked outside after Morgan and Butcher left and identified the pickup truck.