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Tampa man faces retrial in murder-for-hire plot

TAMPA — After 2 1/2 days of deliberation, a jury split its verdict Friday for a man accused of supplying cocaine and then ordering a hit on an associate he thought had snitched.

Jurors acquitted Earnest Charles Morgan Jr., 37, of drug trafficking and first-degree murder.

They found him guilty of racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering and conspiracy to deliver cocaine.

Morgan of Tampa was not sentenced, but he is guaranteed prison time, and still faces serious charges.

Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, a capital crime. Assistant State Attorney Darrell Dirks said his office will continue to prosecute Morgan on those charges.

That means Dirks and defense attorney Nick Sinardi essentially have to repeat the entire trial, which took almost two weeks this time.

They will meet Monday to set future court dates.

Morgan was arrested in 2005 on drug-trafficking charges. Prosecutors said he had delivered 3.3 pounds of cocaine to Maurice Walton of Seffner, though they didn't know the supplier's identity at the time.

Hoping to lessen the impact of his own charges, Walton led authorities to Morgan.

Dirks said Morgan wanted to ensure that Walton would never testify against him at trial. He agreed to pay a man $15,000 to kill the state's key witness, according to testimony.

Walton, who owned a trucking company, was shot to death April 1, 2007.

The hit man, 25-year-old Oral K. Drummond of Tampa, was convicted of murder last year. He was not among the more than 30 witnesses who testified at Morgan's trial during the past two weeks.

Sinardi told jurors they should be wary that the state's case against Morgan relied heavily on the stories of three men who are all serving federal prison time on unrelated charges.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Tampa man faces retrial in murder-for-hire plot 04/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 11:45pm]
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