The trial of Stephen Morgan, who is accused of murdering Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10 at Red & Black Café in May 2009 continued this week on Tuesday and Thursday in Superior Court in Middletown. Because Morgan is pursuing an insanity defense, much of the trial over the past two days focused on mental health experts’ testimony about Morgan’s mental state.
The defense called expert witnesses Dr. Madelon Baranoski and Dr. Howard Zonana to testify about the psychological evaluations and interviews they conducted with Morgan.
On Tuesday, the trial opened with testimony from detectives and more eyewitnesses. Medical Examiner Susan Williams testified that the official cause of death for Justin-Jinich was multiple gunshot wounds and that her death was ruled a homicide.
Several of Justin-Jinich’s friends also spoke about her personality and her experience at Wesleyan.
Ariana Snowdon ’10, one of Justin-Jinich’s closest friends, testified that she accidentally came across an email that Justin-Jinich sent to Morgan when she left her email account open. The email read, “Stop stalking me.”
The state produced a copy of the email as evidence, and Snowdon was able to confirm that it was the same email she had read. Snowdon also testified that Justin-Jinich had made a reference during a conversation they had to a “creep in New York.” Justin-Jinich and Morgan first met and studied together at NYU during summer 2007.
The trial continued into the afternoon with defense Attorney Richard Brown asking the court for the acquittal of Morgan’s second charge of intimidation due to bigotry or bias. Judge Susan Handy responded that the motion had to be reviewed before a decision could be made.
Next, the defense called Baranoski, a psychologist who performed evaluations on Morgan from June to July 2009. Baranoski said that Morgan’s answers to the tests indicated a mental disorder, specifically schizophrenia.
When the trial resumed on Thursday, Baranoski continued testifying about Morgan’s test results, saying that they appeared to indicate paranoid schizophrenia. She said that Morgan believed that other prison inmates and guards were monitoring him and that a video of his inner thoughts was being shown to his family.
“Mr. Morgan thought guards were controlling and broadcasting his thoughts,” she said. “He told me that in the flattest of voices, not emotive.”
She also said that Morgan believed the radio was specifically talking about him and his relationship with Justin-Jinich.
“Mr. Morgan believed that Howard Stern was broadcasting on the radio just to him about Ms. Justin-Jinich,” she said. “She was either going to have sex with him or kill him.”
Brown called Zonana next to testify about the approximately 14 hours he spent interviewing Morgan during sessions from June 2009 to February 2011. He first constructed a timeline of Morgan’s life, beginning with the problems during his childhood. Zonana said that Morgan had problems with syntax and memory skills, and from age eight onwards he had difficulty maintaining eye contact.
Zonana continued describing Morgan’s mental state throughout his life which included his time in high school, in the Navy—where Zonana noted that Morgan used alcohol and drugs like LSD, ecstasy, and amphetamines like Ritalin—and his time at NYU when he met Justin-Jinich.
Zonana said that once his “mostly-fantasy relationship” began with Justin-Jinich, he began emailing her accusatory and angry messages. He moved to Colorado and enrolled in classes, but he had difficulty with his courses and sought help from a mental health clinic after complaining that he needed to resolve a relationship from NYU.
Zonana finished the timeline saying that Morgan visited Middletown a few times in 2008, and then ultimately in May 2009, when the murder took place. Zonana then described how he had videotaped all of his sessions with Morgan, and the defense planned to show a few hours of the footage in court. He played a video from an interview that took place on June 24, 2009.
The video began with Morgan saying he believed someone was reading things on his computer and his journal and was posting things about him on the ACB. When Zonana asked Morgan if he believed that Justin-Jinich was writing things to him, Morgan said that he thought Justin-Jinich was posting on the ACB about interactions they had in New York, referencing specific threads he believed were targeted toward him.
Throughout the video, Morgan soften paused or went into strange tangential stories. His answers often seemed disorganized and erratic. As the video played in the courtroom, Morgan appeared uninterested, looking down at his chair and occasionally rocking back and forth.
In the video, Morgan continued talking about how he saw more and more posts about him on the ACB and how he believed people were following him and logging into his email and posting things he wrote on the ACB. He pointed out posts that he believed referenced things he thought or said; posts included comments such as, “I want you to know I like seeing you smile,” “just when I thought there was no reason to run, where did you come from,” and “I was caught in your web, I feel so trapped.” He also believed there were videos of him on YouTube that people were watching and laughing at. At one point, Morgan said that reading the ACB was upsetting him.
At this point Zonana stopped the tape to comment on the footage, saying that Morgan was thinking or saying something and he would see these phrases come up on the ACB and would assume that this related to what he was thinking. Zonana said he began to think more and more that these posts on the ACB related to what he was thinking and saying.
As the video continued, Morgan described how he felt that there were posts on the ACB threatening his family. He said that one of the triggers in his decision to purchase a gun was when he believed he saw posts on the ACB that were in his brother’s voice, which he thought was because someone had been going through his email messages to and from his brother.
Morgan then said that Justin-Jinich was also communicating with him on the ACB, saying that he had evidence she was posting on there because during her semester abroad in Spain, the amount of activity on the board decreased. He also described how he thought his dad’s computer was bugged and he gave the middle finger to the camera in his father’s computer. He claimed that his fears were confirmed by an ACB post in which someone had typed out a picture of a middle finger. He said one comment on the post was “RAWR,” which he said was how Justin-Jinich would write, so he knew it was her commenting to him.
He also said he emailed Justin-Jinich about her posts on the ACB and posts on her online blog that he felt were about him, but that she denied knowing anything about it. At this point the video was paused and the court adjourned for the day. The trial will continue next week with Zonana’s testimony.
Features Editor Benjamin Soloway, Production Manager Eric Stephen, and Executive Editor Katherine Yagle contributed to the reporting of this story.