Lanasha Rollerson sneaked out of her house late one night last summer and went to a party on Hagen Street that didn’t end until early the next morning.
When the 13-year-old girl’s mother got up the next morning and noticed she wasn’t home, she figured she had left for Sunday morning church with her aunt and grandmother as she usually did.
But when they returned home from church without Lanasha, the family called police and started a search that included posting fliers around the neighborhood.
The search ended when her body was found with more than 60 stab wounds the night of Sept. 3 behind a Newburgh Street garage bordering the backyard of the house where Darshawn Morris held the party Aug. 31 into the morning of Sept. 1.
Police arrested Morris on Sept. 4. The 21-year-old suspect went on trial Tuesday on charges of second-degree murder, second-degree rape and second-degree criminal sexual act.
“This defendant raped and murdered a 13-year-old girl,” Assistant District Attorney Patrick B. Shanahan told the State Supreme Court jury in his opening statement.
He said Morris stabbed Lanasha, slit her throat, then dumped her body, poured gasoline on it and burned her and nearly cut off her arm.
He described Morris’ second-floor apartment as a party pad where he and his buddies hung out with young girls, even though he had a pregnant wife.
After the party ended early Sept. 1, the prosecutor told the jury, neighbors saw Lanasha outside the apartment talking to a man on the sidewalk, but Morris ordered her back inside. “That was the last time she was seen alive,” Shanahan said.
Neighbors then heard a struggle going on in the apartment, with someone being thrown around and bottles being broken. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,” they heard someone say, according to the prosecutor. The noise stopped.
After that, Morris was seen going in and out of the house, carrying a mattress across the street as well as a black garbage bag and a bottle of bleach, Shanahan said.
About 10 a.m. that day, Morris’ wife arrived at the house and asked the first-floor neighbor to accompany her to the second-floor apartment. The neighbor testified that his wife told her “she thought they did something to one of the little girls at the party.”
The apartment was littered with beer and liquor bottles. The neighbor said the wife called Morris and asked him – on speaker phone – what had happened.
She said he told his wife to shut up and get rid of everything in the apartment that didn’t belong to him.
She said the wife got a garbage bag, picked up a shoe and what looked like a gun but was a black plastic BB gun, and put them in the bag, then left.
The neighbor testified that she saw two blood stains on the carpet in the bedroom.
After Lanasha’s body was found, Shanahan said, Morris gave police two statements.
He first told them he threw down Lanasha during an argument, and she hit her head. He said he stabbed her, dumped her in the garage and cut out a piece of the mattress.
But in the second statement, he told police Lanasha had a knife and he tried to defend himself. He said they tussled over the knife, and she fell and hit her head. He said she was unconscious and he put her on the bed with the knife. But when she regained consciousness, he said she tried to stab him, then tried to get away. He said he stabbed her, slitting her throat as she tried to climb over a gate outside.
The prosecutor said the medical examiner will testify that Lanasha died of multiple stab wounds, that her throat was slit, that she smelled of gasoline and that her chest was burned.
He said testimony also will show that Lanasha’s blood was found on the mattress and that Morris’ DNA was found under her fingernails and his sperm was found in her body.
Robert J. Cutting, Morris’ attorney, told the jury that the prosecution has no eyewitnesses. “Nobody saw what happened,” he said. “The prosecution is asking you to guess what happened in that apartment.”
He also said there is no murder weapon. “We don’t know what instrument was used to cause death,” he said.
Cutting said the medical examiner found more than 80 injuries on Lanasha’s body, some of which were inflicted after she died. “The prosecution wants you to believe that Darshawn Morris inflicted all of these injuries” over a short period of time.
The defense attorney also noted that Morris’ statements to police were given after they had picked him up at the psychiatric emergency unit at Erie County Medical Center and taken him to Police Headquarters for questioning.
He said the statements don’t match up with the injuries found on Lanasha’s body.
The trial resumes today before Justice M. William Boller.