Jurors on Thursday began deliberating the fate of a man accused of killing a 13-year-old girl after they heard two contrasting portrayals of what happened.
But both the defense and prosecution agreed the slaying of Lanasha Rollerson last year – after a sex party, according to the defense – was an especially disturbing case.
Defense attorney Emily Trott called her death gruesome.
Prosecutor James F. Bargnesi called it heinous and horrific.
Lanasha was killed Sept. 1 after the party in Darshawn Morris’ apartment on Hagen Street. Her body was found Sept. 3 in a garage on the property behind his apartment.
Authorities on Sept. 4 charged Morris, 21, with murder, rape and criminal sexual act after he gave police two statements admitting he killed her.
Her attacker inflicted more than 60 stab wounds, one so deep that it penetrated a lung and others with such force that four of her ribs were damaged. Her neck was slit and her upper arm had been cut to the bone during an attempt to dismember her. Her body was set on fire, with burns on her chest.
The medical examiner described her face as “one big bruise.”
The State Supreme Court jury began deliberating after hearing closing statements in the trial before Justice M. William Boller. Deliberations resume today.
Trott told the jury that her client did not kill Lanasha. She cited his testimony this week in which he said he lied when he told police he killed Lanasha. He testified that he was covering up for the real killer – a man he identified as his cousin.
He said he had sex with Lanasha in his bedroom. And then after her death, he tried to clean two blood stains on the carpet and cut a bloody section from a mattress. He said he hid the mattress behind a house across the street and disposed other evidence in a garbage bag. He said he helped carry her body to the garage. He said that at his cousin’s direction, he later tried to cut up the body with a saw, then tried to burn the body.
DNA analysis showed that the blood on the carpet and mattress was Lanasha’s.
Bargnesi, chief homicide prosecutor for the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, said the evidence points to Morris’ guilt and not to the cousin, whom the prosecutor called “the phantom killer.”
He cited Morris’ two statements to the police, two witnesses who saw Morris with Lanasha outside just before she was killed, the presence of his DNA under her fingernails, and his efforts to dispose of the body among other evidence.
In the first statement to police, Morris said he fought with Lanasha after she refused his request to leave his apartment before his wife returned home. He said she fell and hit her head, and that he got a knife from the kitchen and stabbed her when she still wouldn’t leave. He then put her body in the garage.
In the second statement, Morris said they struggled over the knife. She fell down, hit her head and lost consciousness, he said. He said she tried to stab him when she regained consciousness. He said he then accidentally stabbed her.
Morris said she got up and ran into the backyard, where he grabbed her foot as she climbed a gate and he cut her neck. He said she fell into a hole in the neighbor’s garage and he left her there.
Bargnesi said the first statement was as close to the truth as Morris got. Then he came up with the second statement to make it look like self-defense, Bargnesi said. After the second statement, Morris called his mother and told her he was going to jail and that he committed the crime, the prosecutor said.
This week, Morris came up with another version of what happened, Bargnesi said. Morris testified his cousin killed Lanasha. Morris testified that he took the blame because the slaying happened at his apartment and he thought his cousin would eventually “man up” and admit that he, not Morris, killed her.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Bargnesi said. He told jurors the testimony came from a man “who thought he could cut up a body like they do in the movies.”
Bargnesi noted that the cousin’s DNA was not found on the victim, that witnesses saw the cousin leave the party before Lanasha was killed, and that no one saw “the phantom killer” return.
Once Morris and Lanasha returned to his apartrment from outside, witnesses testified that Lanasha went out on the porch and that they heard Morris order her to come back in. Then they heard her say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,” followed by the sounds of things falling, then silence.
Morris testified his cousin ordered Lanasha to come in from the porch and that he took her into the bedroom where he killed her before dropping her out the second-floor bedroom window.
Bargnesi said no blood was found on the window or the back of the house.
Trott told jurors that Morris’ police statements do not match the evidence or the injuries found on Lanasha’s body. But his testimony that he heard his cousin hit Lanasha with a barbell is consistent with a large circular bruise on her head, she said.
“Darshawn Morris had no motive to stab her more than 60 times,” Trott said. “That is more likely the action of somebody who hit her with a weight and gave her a black eye.”
She said Morris failed in his efforts to dismember and burn her “because he is not a killer.”