Both sides rest in trial of Ford killing


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ST. THOMAS - The murder trial for Jamal Morton, accused of killing 19-year-old Basheem Ford in 2009, continued Tuesday in V.I. Superior Court.

The prosecution rested its case, and the defense chose not to present a case at all.

The jury will hear closing arguments from both sides today and begin deliberations.

After all evidence was presented Tuesday, V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar gave the jury very specific instructions to ignore a piece of testimony that came up during the trial Monday.

When defense attorney Leslie Payton cross-examined Crime Scene Technician Debra Mahoney on Monday, Payton asked whether Mahoney knew Ford. She said she knew he was the son of a police officer.

Payton also asked whether she knew Ford was facing charges in the killing of off-duty police officer Ariel Frett; she said yes.

Ford and Jermaine Paris, Ford's half-brother, were scheduled to go on trial in November 2009 and were accused of killing Frett in Hospital Ground in February 2007.

Ford, who was a minor at the time of Frett's killing, was shot several times by a police officer who intervened when he saw Frett under attack.

Ford spent a week in the hospital before he was arrested. A judge later ruled Ford would stand trial as an adult.

The trial for Paris was rescheduled after Ford's death. Paris was tried in April 2010 and found not guilty on all charges.

Hollar told the jury Tuesday that the information about Ford's character and the fact that he was facing murder charges at the time of his death is not to be considered as evidence in the case against Morton.

"That statement is completely irrelevant as to what is before you," Hollar told the jury.

She said the questions asked by Payton and the answers given by Mahoney must be stricken from evidence. She said Ford was not convicted of, nor pleaded guilty to, killing Frett, and the character of the victim - Ford - was not a part of the case against Morton.

Morton is facing five counts: first-degree murder, possession of an unauthorized firearm during the commission of a first-degree murder, first-degree assault, possession of an unauthorized firearm during the commission of a first-degree assault, and reckless endangerment in connection with the slaying Ford in Market Square on St. Thomas.

Monday, Assistant Attorney General Douglas Sprotte gave an opening statement that laid out the government's case against Morton.

About 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2009, Ford was driving a blue Ford Escape east along Main Street, Sprotte said.

As he came to a stop just before Market Square, a man ran up to the car and fired a shot through the front windshield into the car, then ran to the driver's side window and fired several more shots, Sprotte said.

Ford was bleeding but still alive and dragged himself over the passenger's seat and out the passenger's side door into the street, Sprotte said. The killer ran around behind the vehicle and fired more shots into Ford, Sprotte said.

Sprotte said Ford was unarmed.

An off-duty auxiliary police officer, who was driving through the area at the time, saw a man he recognized as Morton run out in front of his car and look right at him, Sprotte said. The auxiliary officer then turned the corner and came upon the homicide scene.

A few weeks later, on Aug. 20, police responded to reports of shots fired near the federal building and arrived to find Morton passed out next to a firearm with spent casings nearby, Sprotte said.

Tuesday, the prosecution showed the jury photos of Morton, lying unconscious and wearing only one shoe on the eastern steps of the Ron de Lugo federal building. A gun was found on the steps next to him along with two bullets and more than a dozen spent casings.

FBI Agent Brett Mills, a firearms and tool mark examiner at the FBI lab in Quantico, Va., testified Tuesday. Mills said he compared the markings on the casings found at the Aug. 9 crime scene and the Aug. 20 crime scene and found that they came from the same gun. He also test fired the gun found on Aug. 20 next to Morton and found those casings matched the casings from both crime scenes.

"They all match," he said.

Mills identified the gun as a Glock pistol.

After Mills' testimony, the prosecution rested its case.

Payton, who had reserved the right to make his opening statement after the prosecution rested, gave a very short statement.

"I am not going to put on a case," he told the jury.

He explained that according to the U.S. Constitution, the burden of proof lies with the government to prove guilt and he said he does not believe the prosecution had the evidence to convict in Morton's case.

He then said the defense rested.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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