Wesleyan College Jewish student Johanna Justin-Jinich was working at a cafe inside a bookstore near the Middletown, Conn., campus May 6, 2009, when police said Stephen Morgan, 29, approached the counter, raised his gun and shot her at close range
Hartford, CT - Two and a half years after a Wesleyan University student was gunned down at an off-campus bookstore café, the man charged in her murder is going on trial before three state judges who will be hearing testimony about the defendant’s mental health problems.
The trial of Stephen Morgan, 32, from Marblehead, Mass., is scheduled to begin Wednesday in state court in Middletown, home of the small liberal arts university. He’s charged with killing 21-year-old Wesleyan junior Johanna Justin-Jinich of Timnath, Colo., on May 6, 2009.
The killing stunned and frightened the Wesleyan community over two days and caused a campus lockdown. After the shooting but before Morgan’s arrest the next day, police found journals in Morgan’s car and announced that he had written about killing Justin-Jinich, going on a shooting spree on campus and targeting Jews. Justin-Jinich’s family is Jewish, and her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor.
The two apparently met in 2007 while attending a summer class at New York University. Justin-Jinich filed a harassment complaint with police that summer claiming she was getting unwanted phone calls and insulting emails from Morgan, but she didn’t pursue criminal charges.
Morgan chose the three-judge panel over a jury for his trial, and his lawyer is pursuing an insanity defense. If convicted of murder, he could face up to 60 years in prison or be committed to a high-security state psychiatric hospital, depending on the judges’ ruling on the insanity claim. He was also charged with two other felonies — intimidation due to bias and carrying a pistol without a permit.
Prosecutors have indicated that their first witnesses will include students, employees of the café where Justin-Jinich was working when she was killed and police officers. Both the prosecution and defense are expected to put psychiatrists on the witness stand to testify about Morgan’s mental health.
On Tuesday, Judge Susan Handy, who will lead the panel, decided to allow one television camera and one newspaper camera in the courtroom. Both the prosecution and defense opposed the media’s camera requests.
The case is being tried by prosecutor Timothy Liston and defense lawyer Richard Brown. Judges Julia Aurigemma and James Bentivegna will join Handy on the bench, Brown said.
“I think both sides are ready and the court’s anxious to get this case ... in the rearview mirror,” Brown said Tuesday.
Liston didn’t return a message Tuesday. Justin-Jinich’s mother, Ingrid Justin, declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
Justin-Jinich was working at The Red and Black Café inside Broad Street Books when Morgan allegedly walked in wearing a wig and shot her several times. An arrest warrant affidavit says a police officer questioned Morgan outside the bookstore shortly after the shooting but let him go. Morgan surrendered the next night about 10 miles away in Meriden.
In a journal entry before the killing, Morgan wrote, “I think it okay to kill Jews and go on a killing spree at this school,” police said.
Police also said they found an infamous anti-Semitic book, “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” in Morgan’s hotel room.
The announcement of Morgan’s writings prompted Wesleyan officials to lock buildings on campus, tell students to stay indoors and tell staff members to stay home. A synagogue across the street from the bookstore closed its doors temporarily, and congregants considered canceling Sabbath services.