Murder victim Richard Morgan Jr. enjoyed reminiscing at the Justice Tractor Show
LOUISBURG -- A Franklinton man convicted of killing his father avoided the death penalty and spending the rest of his life in jail.
But, after being sentenced for second degree murder on March 20, John Lawrence Morgan would be 72 at the earliest he'd be eligible for prison release -- 11 years younger than Richard Morgan Jr. was when he died by his son's hand.
"As his son said, [Richard Morgan Jr.] was a great man and a good man," said Attorney Boyd Sturges, who represented John Morgan in the case.
"The things that were said were true about his impact on the community," Sturges said. " ... This is a tragedy of almost Biblical proportions. It's almost an Absalom kind of a matter."
Franklinton Police, with assistance from the State Bureau of Investigation, arrested John Morgan on Nov. 26, 2017, alleging that he stabbed his father, wrapped him in sheets, stuffed him in the basement and told investigators that five black men were responsible for the crime.
According to Franklinton Police Sgt. Adam Carlson, John Morgan approached him and another officer outside the police station on Mason Street on the day in question.
During the plea hearing, Carlson told Superior Court Judge John Dunlow that he remembers John Morgan calmly telling officers that at about 3 a.m., he heard a scuffle in the home he shared with his father on Main Street.
John Morgan said he saw the men attacking his father and he went back upstairs and hid in a closet because he was scared.
John Morgan came back down hours later to find his father dead, Carlson said of the younger Morgan's account to officers.
"Did [this story] seem odd to you," District Attorney Mike Waters asked Carlson while on the stand.
"Significantly, yes sir," Carlson responded.
Upon further investigation, authorities at the scene suggested there were attempts to cover up the crime -- the carpeting was drenched in cleaning supplies -- and evidence soon pointed to John Morgan as the killer.
Shortly after the crime, Franklinton police said John Morgan confessed to killing his father.
In the months after the crime, after reviewing evidence and meeting with the family, prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty in the case.
A first degree murder conviction would carry a sentence of life in prison.
However, there is the question of competency that cast a shadow over the case, Waters said.
Mental health evaluators found John Morgan competent to stand trial, but there could be a question at trial about his competency at the time of the murder, Waters said.
"... Certainly that might be an issue, and that might be a reason why the jury would return a verdict of second degree with respect to pre-meditation/deliberation, but we have chosen as the state not to inundate the court with 50 to 60 pictures of this crime scene [and put the family through that]," Waters said during the plea hearing.
Waters also said the state would have been able to argue an element of the crime that would make John Morgan's competency at the time moot, but the second degree murder plea accomplishes enough to avoid a trial.
"... A sentence that speaks at the truth in this matter ... is a sentence at the top of the presumptive range that would put Mr. Morgan in prison for a long time so this family can rest," Waters told Dunlow.
"... They have been gracious in working with the state and to consent and be here today to support this plea," he said. "I would think that [a long prison term] is a sentence that would best serve justice in this case."
Before Dunlow banged the gavel on the prison sentence, the son of Richard Morgan Jr., Richard Morgan III, told the judge about his dad's impact on the community during his 83 years of life.
His wife, Judy, lost her husband of 58 years, Richard Morgan III said.
He went on to tell Judge Dunlow that his father, among other things;
• Was a father figure to his younger brothers and sisters, offering them love, advice and compassion;
• Was a provider for his family and "was a caring soul who would give to you, even if he had to do without;"
• Was a grandfather who loved to congratulate his grandchildren on their accomplishments and is no longer able to do so;
• Was a businessman who employed so many people for more than 50 years, giving them a means to support their own families;
• Was a military veteran and retired firefighter who gave advice to current volunteers and mentored even younger firefighters;
• Was a person who knew no strangers, shoveled snow at the church so people could make it in to worship and was a stalwart in the community that will never be the same without him.
And, he would have been a guiding force in this time of uncertainty.
"He would be the one to tell everyone to remain calm and [tell everyone] that we will survive this together," Richard Morgan III said would have been his father's advice to the community during this current pandemic.
"And, he would have been the one to give guidance and instruction on how to do so.
"My name is Richard H. Morgan III, and I lost my best friend."
John Morgan had no comment to offer the court prior to sentencing.
Dunlow handed down a sentence of between 365 months and 450 months in prison. John Morgan was given credit for his time in jail, which had been since the day of the crime.
"Mr. Morgan," said Dunlow, "the thing that has concerned me most about your case, in reading those reports, is your repeated hospitalizations and your repeated prescriptions that were provided to you by doctors that, by all accounts, worked to keep you under control and keep your psychotic symptoms under control.
"[However] you continuously refused [to take them] and [you] stopped taking medications, time after time after time.
"And [as Waters] indicated, the very man who probably did the most to help you is the one who had to suffer and ... you've got to live with that the rest of your life.
"I wish you the best of luck.
"To the family, if there was anything I could do to bring your loved one back, I would, but there's nothing I can do.
"I hope that this judgement will give you some peace and comfort as you go forward.
"Good luck to you."