BY KEN LITTLE
The young woman who admitted to robbing a Chuckey convenience store in June testified Tuesday in the U.S. District Court trial of Larry Shane Morgan, the man who prosecutors say fired a gun during the robbery and acted alone four days later in the armed holdup of a Greeneville Federal Bank branch here.
Kaylen L. Butcher testified that Morgan controlled her actions during the June 28 robbery at the Stop & Go Market, 6910 East Andrew Johnson Hwy., and left cash and a gun with her following the July 2 robbery of the Greeneville Federal Bank branch, at 2305 East Andrew Johnson Hwy.
But Butcher, 19, had difficulty recalling other details about the days following the robberies under rigorous cross-examination by Nikki Pierce, assistant federal public defender, who is representing Morgan.
Butcher also admitted to lying to FBI investigators on several occasions before pleading guilty recently in U.S. District Court to robbery and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.
Co-defendant Brandon Dale Shelton, 18, entered a guilty plea in federal court Oct. 2 to making a false statement in a matter within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government.
'I WILL SHOOT'
Morgan, 36, fired a handgun in both robberies, Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Gregory Bowman, who is prosecuting the case, said in his opening statement.
"'Give me all your money, even your reserves. I'm not playing. I will shoot," Morgan announced moments before firing a round into the wall just over the head of a bank teller, Bowman told the jury.
"He met up with Kaylen Butcher later that evening," Bowman said.
Morgan was taken into custody the next morning, July 3, outside a Johnson City motel, by Greeneville Police Department detectives.
As Morgan struggled with a detective outside the motel, a package fell to the ground.
"In that bag was $22,000," Bowman said, including marked bills.
"Not only did the defendant rob Stop & Go and rob Greeneville Federal Bank, firing a gun during the robberies, but he was already a convicted felon prohibited from carrying a gun," Bowman said.
Evidence presented during the trial will show that Morgan is the man responsible for the robberies, Bowman told the jury.
CHARGED WITH 6 CRIMES
Morgan is charged with six crimes by federal authorities in connection with the bank and market robberies. They include bank robbery, obstruction of commerce by robbery, two counts of use of a firearm in relation to a violent crime, and two counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
Morgan could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of all the charges against him.
Virginia lawyer Benjamin Sharp, another member of Morgan's defense team, said in his opening statement that the crimes committed on June 28 and July 2 were "despicable."
What the defense and prosecution disagree on "is who committed the acts," Sharp said.
Trial testimony showed Morgan met Butcher at a 2012 New Year's Eve party and soon "became infatuated with her," Sharp said.
Butcher acknowledged having a problem with pill abuse.
Morgan, who worked full-time at Angus Palm, provided opportunities for Butcher, Sharp said, even though she continued a close relationship with Shelton.
"(She) was a drug-user," Sharp said, and her family was in financial difficulty.
"What Kaylen Butcher sees in Larry Shane Morgan is an individual who can do things for her nobody else in her life can," Sharp said. "He can help her."
Butcher "had Brandon Shelton in her life...but Brandon Shelton doesn't have a job. He can't do for Kaylen Butcher what Larry Shane Morgan can do," Sharp said.
THROWN 'UNDER THE BUS'
Ultimately, "Kaylen Butcher has no problem throwing (Morgan) under the bus," Sharp said.
Butcher and Shelton not only lied to investigators before agreeing to cooperate, "but they also disposed of evidence," referring to the gun used by Morgan that Shelton disposed of, Sharp said.
Despite their "brazen attitude," Sharp cautioned the jury that Butcher and Shelton will offer prosecution testimony "to save their own skin."
Morgan was at work at Angus Palm the day of the bank robbery, Sharp said.
"He was there in the morning, and he was there in the afternoon," he said. "No one from Angus Palm will say they saw him leave."
"Larry Shane Morgan made a poor decision to get involved with Kaylen Butcher (and) after the fact get involved with Brandon Shelton," Sharp said. "It does not make him a bank robber."
There will be no testimony during the trial by robbery victims that identifies Morgan as the gunman in either crime, Sharp said.
The faces of both the male gunman and Butcher in the Stop & Go Market robbery were covered with hoods and other clothing.
"The most important evidence is things you will not hear," Sharp said. "Our theory is, the government investigated the right people (but) they incarcerated the wrong guy...Larry Shane Morgan is innocent"
Butcher remains in jail pending sentencing on Jan. 10. Wearing a lime-green jail-style shirt and pants, she first answered questions by Bowman about the Stop & Go Market robbery.
In response to questions by Bowman, Butcher said she pled guilty to "aiding and abetting" Morgan during the Stop & Go Market robbery, and possessing a firearm during the robbery.
Butcher first told investigators she wasn't armed during the market holdup, but later admitted she had a weapon when confronted by the FBI with store video evidence that showed a gun in her waistband, trial testimony showed.
She said part of the agreement when entering the guilty pleas was that she would provide truthful testimony at Morgan's trial.
During several hours of testimony and cross-examination, Butcher avoided eye contact with Morgan, who intently watched her testimony from his seat at the defense table.
Butcher said a romantic relationship with Morgan gradually developed after she met him at the New Year's Eve party.
Bowman asked Butcher about the market robbery.
"When it happened, [Morgan] came to me asked me to participate," she replied.
Morgan provided the oversize clothing Butcher wore into the store and "directed" her movements during the robbery, she testified.
She told Bowman that Morgan fired his gun during the holdup.
Butcher held out a mesh bag during the robbery that Morgan put cash and cigarettes in.
She said the pair went to Morgan's house after the robbery, and she eventually returned home. Butcher said she could not recall anywhere else she and Morgan went that night.
When first approached by FBI agents on July 3 and several times after that, Butcher admitted not telling the truth about her knowledge of the bank robbery.
"It was my first time in trouble. I was scared. I didn't know all what was going on," she said.
Butcher said she did not shoot the guns used in the robberies until after the crimes, on her family's property on Old Stage Road. Brandon Shelton also fired the guns in his back yard after they were taken there, Butcher said.
Morgan told Butcher he "needed the money" in explaining his motivation for the bank robbery, she testified.
"Did he ever provide you with money?" Bowman asked.
"Yes, sir," Butcher replied, for items such as food, clothing and her cell phone.
The night of the bank robbery, the couple met and talked "and went to town and got something to eat," Butcher said. They did some shopping.
Eventually, they went to a house on Asheville Highway and bought some pills, which both Butcher and Morgan took, she said.
"Is it fair to say you had a problem with pills at that time?" Bowman asked.
"Yes," Butcher replied. She said Morgan sometimes bought pills for her.
When she returned to her house, Butcher's sister and boyfriend were there, along with Shelton.
"We liked each other," she said of Shelton.
ROBBERY PROCEEDS SPLIT
Morgan came to her house later on July 2 and admitted to robbing the bank, Butcher testified.
"He said he had done it, but he didn't say how," she said.
Morgan had split the money and placed it in two bags, and gave Butcher one of them before exiting out her bedroom window, she said.
Butcher said she took the bag, which contained a gun, to Shelton's house.
"We did not know what to do with it (so) we put it in Brandon's back room," she said.
The next morning, July 3, Butcher brought the bag back to her house, she testified.
The FBI arrived about noon, and Butcher was arrested later that day. Shelton disposed of the gun used in the bank robbery, she said.
The jury heard a phone call placed by Butcher from the Greene County jail where she spoke with her sister's boyfriend and Shelton, who were at her house.
Morgan did not like Shelton and on the morning of July 3 sent Butcher texts threatening to put him "in the ground for snitching on him," trial testimony showed.
Butcher testified she and Morgan were using pills both before and after the market robbery.
Bowman asked what effect they had.
"We were incoherent," Butcher said.
Lengthy cross-examination by Pierce covered cell phone records and Butcher's spotty recollection of her interactions with Morgan.
"You want everybody to believe somebody made you do this?" asked Pierce.
"That's the truth," Butcher replied.
A minute later: "You told your family you did this of your own free will?"
"Yes," Butcher said.
Bowman objected to questions about Butcher's expectations of a reduced sentence in exchange for her testimony.
"It goes directly to her credibility and her motive to lie because she could receive some benefits," Pierce told presiding Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan.
"It will be up to me," Jordan said. "I will determine the sentence."
Butcher denied that when she told Shelton to "Remember what I said" during the recorded jail telephone call, she was referring to a request to dispose of the gun at her house.
Butcher told Pierce she was "pretty sure" she was home the day of the bank robbery and did not remember a visit to Angus Palm with Shelton which the defense lawyer asked about.
Pierce also asked about discrepancies in statements about the amount of money and cigarettes Butcher received from Morgan following the market and bank robberies.
Butcher could not recall the names of alleged drug transaction partners who left text messages on her phone before and after her arrest, and few details about where she got narcotic pills to support her expensive habit.
Butcher denied selling drugs and told Pierce she did not remember who was in her list of contacts on her cell phone.
Up to 20 witnesses may testify for the prosecution, Bowman said.
Shelton will be sentenced Feb. 5. He may take the stand today as prosecution testimony continues.
Sharp did not indicate Tuesday whether Morgan will testify in his own defense.
Others who testified Tuesday included the clerk working at the Stop & Go Market when it was robbed, and Greene County Sheriff's Department Detective Sgt. Danny Ricker, who collected shell casings from the market and bank after the robberies, and compared them to .40-caliber shell casings from a gun fired on the Butcher property on Old Stage Road in Chuckey.
Jordan was appointed to serve as the trial judge several months ago after District Judge J. Ronnie Greer recused himself from the case.
Jury selection began Tuesday morning and lasted until about noon. The seven-woman, five man jury, with one female alternate, was drawn from the 10-county area that comprises the Greeneville-based Northeast Division of the U.S. District Court's Eastern District of Tennessee.
The trial could last as long as three days, Judge Jordan said.