TAMPA — Arrested on drug trafficking charges in 2005, Ernest Charles Morgan Jr. faced 15 years in prison if convicted, even less if he cooperated with prosecutors.
But Morgan, 37, decided that the man fingering him as a cocaine supplier would never testify at trial, according to a prosecutor.
Maurice Walton of Seffner was gunned down about 2:30 a.m. April 1, 2007, nine days after he gave a deposition in Morgan's drug case. Morgan is accused of ordering the hit.
Wednesday, a jury began deliberating a host of charges against Morgan, which now include first-degree murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder.
If convicted as charged, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
"Ernest Charles Morgan wanted to turn the criminal justice system on its head," Assistant State Attorney Darrell Dirks said during closing arguments. He "was determined that Maurice Dennis Walton was not going to take that stand and testify."
Jurors did not reach a verdict after about four hours of deliberation. They will resume their talks this morning.
During a week-long trial, they heard testimony from more than 30 witnesses. Prosecutors contend that Morgan delivered 1 1/2 kilos of cocaine to Walton on Oct. 25, 2005. Thanks to surveillance and a wiretap on Walton's phone, Tampa police anticipated the exchange. But when they arrested Walton, they didn't know the identity of his supplier, Dirks said.
Hoping to lessen the impact of his own charges, Walton gave Morgan, also known as Tiger, up to police.
In late 2005 or early 2006, Morgan began paying a man who agreed to kill Walton before the drug trial, Dirks said. When that arrangement fell through, he turned to another potential hit man, Oral K. Drummond.
Dressed in black, Drummond carried out the deed as Walton returned to his car after attending a party with friends, witnesses said. He shot the key witness eight times.
According to testimony, Morgan paid Drummond $15,000.
Drummond was convicted of murder last fall and is serving a life sentence.
Kenton O. Johnson, the alleged driver of the getaway car, is set to go on trial on a murder charge next month.
Morgan wasn't charged with murder until August. Authorities built their case against him using information offered over time by three men who were arrested on unrelated federal crimes.
The men are all serving time in federal prison. Defense attorney Nick Sinardi told jurors they should find the heart of the state's case suspect.
Those men, Sinardi said, "would tell you that their mothers were drug dealers if it would help them get out of prison."
He said prosecutors had no other evidence besides that testimony to prove Morgan's guilt.
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.