On Feb. 29, 2012, a three-judge panel at the Middlesex Superior Court ruled that Stephen Morgan, who was accused of murdering Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10 at Red & Black Café in May 2009, will be committed for up to 60 years under maximum security at the Whiting Forensic Division in Connecticut Valley Hospital. In December 2011, the same panel found Morgan not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect for the three charges against him: first-degree murder, intimidation due to racial bigotry or bias, and possession of a pistol without a permit.
The actual amount of time Morgan spends at the psychiatric hospital will depend upon mental re-evaluations that are done every two years and will not exceed 60 years.
Susan McKinley, a social worker at Whiting, testified to the behavior she observed from Morgan over the 60-day term of mental evaluation issued by the state in December. She stated that, since Morgan entered Whiting, he has functioned fairly well on a day-to-day basis, and that he is reacting appropriately to his anti-psychotic medication. However, McKinley testified that Morgan has remained very suspicious and has a low self-opinion. She said he desires social interactions but tends to misread aspects of these interactions. McKinley testified that Morgan believed Justin-Jinich wanted more from their relationship than he was able to give, while in reality the situation was reversed.
In earlier hearings, experts classified Morgan as a paranoid schizophrenic. McKinley stated that during his time at Whiting, she did not see gross signs of psychosis, but that he grappled with some symptoms. However, Morgan is now consistently receiving medication, whereas previously he was either un-medicated or only partially medicated.
McKinley stressed Morgan’s inability to understand his own disease and stated that he is only in the beginning stage of identifying his symptoms and how they led to his current state. She also said that he has repeatedly expressed confusion over the circumstances that landed him in the courtroom.
Finally, McKinley said that, due to lack of insight into his illness, Morgan represents a danger to both himself and others.
“It is our opinion that a maximum security at Whiting is appropriate for him,” McKinley said.
The defense did not call any witnesses.
During closing statements, Richard Brown, one of Morgan’s attorneys, asked that the panel sentence Morgan for 45 years. Prosecutor Timothy Liston asked the panel to commit Morgan to the maximum confinement of 75 years, allowing the ward to address any positive changes seen in Morgan over time.
Morgan, dressed in a dark grey sweater and sweatpants, declined the chance to speak.
Justin-Jinich’s family was not present at the committal hearing, but her mother contacted the court and urged the maximum sentence. In a letter, she expressed her concern that Morgan might pose a threat to those connected to her daughter or the broader University community.
President Michael Roth said that he was glad the trial had finally come to a close.
“I wrote to one of the judges who was hearing the case on behalf of Wesleyan,” he said. “This is such a tragedy for Johanna’s family and I’m glad that this phase of its aftermath is over.”
He said that although he found no comfort in the verdict, he supported the judges’ decision.
“I’m glad that the court saw the seriousness of the disorder and the threat to which it gave rise,” he said. “It’s a sad thing to see how certain kinds of mental illness can be linked to this kind of extreme and hate-filled violence. I take no pleasure in the sentencing. There’s no sense of justice even being served but just of a problem. I think they found a way of trying to deal with the problem of this man’s illness as best they can, and in as secure a way as possible.”