BY KEN LITTLE
Larry Shane Morgan was found guilty Thursday of armed bank robbery and five other crimes associated with the July 2 hold-up of a Greeneville Federal Bank branch and the June 28 hold-up of the Stop & Go Convenience Market in Chuckey. June 28.
Morgan's three-day trial was in U.S. District Court in Greeneville
The seven-woman, five-man jury deliberated about three hours before coming back with the guilty verdict.
Morgan, 36, of Chuckey, will be sentenced on Feb. 21, 2013, by Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan.
Morgan showed no emotion as Jordan read the verdict.
"I think justice is served," prosecuting Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Gregory Bowman said afterward.
About 20 prosecution witnesses took the stand during the three-day trial.
Two other co-defendants in the case, 19-year-old Kaylen Butcher and 18-year-old Brandon Shelton, recently entered guilty pleas to crimes connected with the case. Both testified for the prosecution during Morgan's trial.
Morgan, who was arrested on July 3, 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 East Andrew Johnson Hwy.
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 an effective life sentence for the crimes. The two firearms possession counts carry minimum sentences of 35 years, Bowman said.
Morgan, who did not testify during the trial, left the courtroom in handcuffs without comment.
Assistant Federal Defender Nikki Pierce and Virginia criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Sharp, who represented Morgan, both declined comment after the verdict.
The possibility of an appeal will be discussed with Morgan, Sharp said.
At least six witnesses, including several of Morgan's co-workers at Angus Palm, testified for the defense.
Pierce and Sharp presented evidence at trial aimed at convincing jurors that Morgan never left his full-time job at Angus Palm on Snapps Ferry Road during a lunch break between 11:30 a.m. and noon on July 2.
Several defense witnesses said they saw Morgan during the day at Angus Palm, but no one could account for his whereabouts during the crucial half-hour period.
The bank robbery took place at 11:41 a.m. A co-worker testified Wednesday he saw Morgan return to his work station about 12:15 p.m.
EVIDENCE AT TRIAL
Evidence presented by the prosecution showed Morgan was carrying more than $25,000 in cash when he was taken into custody by Greeneville police detectives on the morning of July 3 outside a Johnson City motel.
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 an armed robbery happened at that business.
Bank employee Kimberly Foshie drove by Morgan's truck just before the July 2 robbery. She had helped Morgan get a loan for the truck and recognized it after the robbery, testimony showed.
Stop & Go clerk Naresh Das, 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 truck.
One condition of the plea agreements of both Butcher and Shelton was that they testify truthfully at Morgan's trial.
Despite bouts of forgetfulness and a reluctance to answer some questions about drug sources, some elements of testimony by Butcher and Shelton apparently rang true to the jury.
The defense sought to implicate Butcher and Shelton as the pair responsible for both robberies. Their credibility was called into question by Pierce and Sharp.
MORGAN IN CHARGE
Butcher testified Tuesday that Morgan directed her actions during the robbery at the Stop & Go Market.
On the night of July 2, Morgan left cash, clothing and a gun with Butcher at her Old Stage Road house before exiting out her bedroom window, she testified.
Butcher admitted 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.
Shelton admitted in trial testimony that he initially withheld information about throwing the gun used by Morgan in the bank robbery into a quarry.
Shelton entered a guilty plea Oct. 2 in federal court to making a false statement in a matter within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government.
Butcher will be sentenced by Jordan on Jan. 10. Shelton will be sentenced on Feb. 5.
Morgan and Butcher met at a 2012 New Year's Eve party and began a romantic relationship several months later, trial testimony showed.
Butcher and Shelton were long-time friends and also had a relationship.
Butcher, who testified she was "strung out" on narcotic pills at the time of the robberies, used drugs with both men and testified that Morgan sometimes supplied her with pills.
When first approached by FBI agents on July 3 and in several other statements given to authorities, Butcher admitted not being truthful 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 testified.
In his closing argument to the jury Thursday morning, Bowman said all elements of the crimes Morgan was charged with had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Bowman addressed the conflicting stories told by Butcher to FBI agents before she offered what he said is the truthful version of events.
"The truth finally came out, and when the truth came out, she took responsibility for (her) actions," Bowman said.
He said defense suggestions that Shelton was responsible for the robberies and drove Morgan's truck are not believable.
"The testimony is they hate each other. Do you really think Larry Shane Morgan is going to let Mr. Shelton use his truck?" Bowman asked.
Shelton is a "little guy" who does not resemble the man in the convenience store and the person shown in bank robbery surveillance videos.
"There are plenty of things that show beyond a reasonable doubt that Larry Shane Morgan committed the robberies," Bowman said.
When Morgan was apprehended on the morning of July 3 after his truck was spotted outside the Fox Motel in Johnson City, he was carrying a Rue 21 store bag from Kaylen Butcher's house that was full of cash, Bowman said.
The trial testimony of Butcher, Shelton and several other friends and relatives who are admitted drug users was inexact and confused at times, but communicated the most important facts pointing to Morgan's guilt, Bowman said.
"Clearly, their brains are a little addled, but there is a consistent thing that went through all of their testimony," he said.
MORGAN TEXTS MENTIONED
Bowman reminded the jury of two text messages sent the morning of July 3 from Morgan's cell phone.
One was to a supervisor at Angus Palm stating he would not be at work that day because federal authorities were trying to arrest him "for something I didn't do, so I'm freaked out."
The other was to Kaylen Butcher.
"If your little friends snitch me out, I'll put them in the ground," it read.
"What else can that possibly mean other than Larry Shane Morgan is guilty?" Bowman asked. "All the elements of the crime are proven."
In her closing argument, Pierce said law enforcement approached the case with "tunnel vision," only concentrating on Morgan as a possible suspect in both robberies.
"Consider all the proof," she told the jury.
Trial evidence showed that Morgan may have left the Angus Palm building during his lunch break on July 2, "but it doesn't show that he ever left the grounds," Pierce said.
"I would suggest reasonable doubt, ladies and gentlemen, walked to the door and took the stand and her name is Kaylen Butcher. The same thing with Brandon Shelton," she said.
"We told you in the beginning that we believe the government has investigated the right people but they charged the wrong person."