After Darshawn Morris’ conviction Friday in the gruesome murder and attempted dismemberment of a 13-year-old girl, the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorneys all thanked the jury for sitting through a difficult case.
During the two-week trial, the jurors heard grisly testimony about the Sept. 1 slaying of Lanasha Rollerson, who was stabbed more than 60 times, suffered wounds on her neck and upper arm as the defendant tried to cut up her body and showed signs of burns on her chest after he spilled gasoline and set her on fire.
They also heard detailed testimony from the medical examiner describing Lanasha’s injuries and viewed autopsy photos as well as photos of the victim taken after she was found Sept. 3 under garbage bags in a garage behind Morris’ apartment.
State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller told the jurors he appreciated their efforts during what he had initially told them would be an interesting case.
Homicide prosecutor James F. Bargnesi said the murder was “absolutely one of the worst we’ve seen in a long time,” citing the victim’s youth and the nature of her injuries. He thanked jurors for sitting through the horrific case.
Defense attorney Robert J. Cutting said he respected the jurors and their decision. “It was a very difficult case for everyone involved,” he said. He said he was deeply disappointed with the verdict and will file an appeal.
Emily Trott, Morris’ other defense attorney, said her client felt “deep sadness” when the jury returned the guilty verdict just before noon after deliberating about six hours Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
Morris, 21, faces up to 37 years to life in prison when he is sentenced April 17 on his conviction on charges of second-degree murder, second-degree rape and second-degree criminal sexual act.
Jurors apparently didn’t believe Morris, who testified at trial that he was lying Sept. 4 when he gave police two statements admitting that he killed Lanasha after what the defense called “a sex party” in his Hagen Street apartment. He testified that he was covering for the real killer – a man he identified as his cousin.
But Morris admitted that he had sex with Lanasha that night, that he hid a bloody mattress and other evidence in the case, that he helped his cousin dispose of the body in the garage and that at his cousin’s direction, he tried to cut up the body, then burn it.
Bargnesi told the jury in his closing statement Thursday that 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.
The medical examiner testified that Lanasha died from multiple stab wounds to the torso. She said there were 62 stab wounds and 11 incise or cutting wounds. One of the stab wounds was so deep that it penetrated Lanasha’s lung, while others were inflicted 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 Lanasha’s face as “one big bruise.”
Morris testified that he heard his cousin beat Lanasha in the bedroom and that he went into the bedroom and saw her on the floor bleeding. He said his cousin threw her body out the bedroom window.
He admitted that he later helped his cousin carry her body from the backyard and dump it in the garage after cutting a bloody piece out of the mattress and hiding the mattress behind an abandoned house across the street. He said he also tried to clean up blood stains on the bedroom carpet. DNA analysis showed that the blood was Lanasha’s.
Morris admitted that, at his cousin’s suggestion, he returned to the garage later that morning and tried to dismember the body. He said he got a bow saw from another cousin.
The defendant said he first tried to remove the head by sawing on the neck but couldn’t do it. He said he then tried twice to cut off her arm but gave up.
He said he felt sick and grabbed an insulated water cooler he had filled with gas after his cousin also suggested that he burn down the garage with the body in it.
He said he accidentally dropped the cooler and the gas spilled onto Lanasha. He said he then tried to burn her but had second thoughts and put out a small fire on her chest using his bare hands.
Bargnesi questioned the defendant about his attempts to cut up the body.
Morris said he first sawed the victim’s neck for less than 30 seconds but then stopped.
“It was harder than you thought?” Bargnesi asked.
“Yes,” Morris said.
“Not like in the movies?” the prosecutor asked.
“No,” the defendant said.
Morris testified that he then tried to saw her shoulder to separate the arm.
“How long did you saw on the shoulder?” Bargnesi asked.
“Not long,” Morris said.
“You heard the medical examiner testify about saw marks in the bone?” Bargnesi asked.
“Yes,” Morris said.
“Did you hear the saw hitting the bone in that young girl’s body?” Bargnesi asked.
“No,” Morris said.
Morris testified that after his failed efforts to dismember and burn Lanasha’s body, he went to his cousin’s house and told him he could finish disposing of the body. He said his cousin called him weak because he couldn’t do the job.
He said he went to another relative’s house and “smoked weed to calm down.”
“I was a little shaky,” he said.
He said he spent the night at another relative’s house but couldn’t sleep, so he bought a bottle of liquor and walked around drinking.
He said he eventually went to the Erie County Medical Center after he told his mother that he wanted to hurt himself. “I didn’t feel right about what I did,” he said. “I didn’t feel I should be alive.”
At ECMC, he was taken to the emergency psychiatric unit where he told a doctor he was sad and depressed and wanted to hurt himself. The doctor asked him if he had hurt anyone, and he said no.
The doctor later told him that police wanted to talk to him. He was taken to Police Headquarters where he gave homicide detectives the two statements admitting he killed Lanasha.