A Buffalo man with a lengthy record of criminal convictions spanning three decades and four states has been sentenced to 12 years to life in prison on his latest conviction stemming from a 2005 house break-in.
State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller imposed the sentence on Richard Morgan, 54, of West Avenue, who had pleaded guilty last month to attempted second-degree burglary.
Morgan, a persistent violent felony offender, had faced a maximum prison term of 25 years to life.
His past convictions included larceny, burglary and trespass, as well as possession of marijuana, a forged instrument and stolen property, according to prosecutors.
Morgan’s latest conviction involved a Sept. 2, 2005, burglary on Bird Avenue. Before he pleaded guilty May 2, he had been convicted twice at trial in the break-in but was successful in getting the verdicts overturned each time on appeal.
The first trial in 2006 ended in conviction for stealing blank checks, DVDs, a laptop computer and a video game device and games during the break-in. He forged and cashed the checks for a few hundred dollars each to finance his drug habit, prosecutors said.
State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang sentenced him to 20 years to life in prison after she found him to be a persistent felon.
Morgan appealed the conviction, and the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, based in Rochester, overturned it in 2010, citing a mistake in jury selection.
The appellate court also chided the prosecutor at the first trial “for improperly shifting the burden of proof onto defendant and in improperly vouching for the credibility of the (prosecution) witnesses” during her closing argument.
At his second trial, Morgan was convicted of second-degree burglary, third-degree grand larceny, a forged-check count and drug possession. He was again sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
He appealed, and the appellate court last November overturned the conviction, this time citing the closing argument from a different prosecutor who made some of the same comments the appellate judges objected to from the first trial, as well as additional comments they found to be improper.
The appellate court said the prosecutor denigrated the defense “by repeatedly characterizing the defense as ‘noise,’ ‘nonsense’ and a ‘distraction,’ and arguing that defense counsel was fabricating facts and attempting to mislead the jury.”
It found that the prosecutor misstated evidence and the law, and made an inappropriate guilt-by-association argument.
The appellate court also dismissed the grand larceny charge because it found insufficient evidence that the value of the stolen property exceeded $3,000.
It also threw out the drug possession charge because, while it found the evidence legally sufficient to establish that Morgan possessed a controlled substance on Sept. 27, 2005, the date of his arrest, the indictment did not charge him with drug possession on that date.
The court ordered a new trial on the burglary and forged-check counts. Morgan pleaded guilty, avoiding a third trial.