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Prosecutor says helper is as guilty as killer

Robert Garner looked at his hands as a prosecutor described him as Alvin Morton's giggling helper during the 1992 executions of two helpless adults in their Hudson living room.

Garner didn't have to personally kill 75-year-old Madeline Weisser and her son John Bowers, 55, to be guilty of first-degree murder, argued Assistant State Attorney Robert Attridge.

Garner "was there. He knew what was going to happen. And he participated in what went on," Attridge said Tuesday in an opening statement at Garner's trial. Under state law, Garner's role in the killings should earn him two murder convictions, Attridge said.

Garner's lawyer, Sam Williams, said that a dominating Alvin Morton "drew Bobby Garner into this horrible tragedy" and then tried to smear Garner with a share of the blame.

"You might decide that Bobby Garner was a stupid, immature child for hanging around with Alvin Morton," Williams said. "You might decide that he is a coward for not doing anything to stop this tragedy."

But he is not guilty of first-degree murder, Williams said.

Garner, a stocky youth with a well-scrubbed face and a sleeveless blue sweater, looks younger than his 19 years.

He scribbled notes and whispered with his attorneys during the first day of testimony. He appeared to take more notice of his surroundings than Morton, who was convicted last month by a jury that recommended the death penalty.

In the first day of testimony, a succession of state witnesses described Garner as a participant in seemingly idle conversations about murder a week before the killings Jan. 27, 1992.

One witness, John King, said he recalled Garner telling Morton "that basically, he would join him" in his murder scheme. But King acknowledged that no one in the roomful of friends took the talk seriously at the time.

Morton, now 21, Garner, and the third teen charged with murder, Timothy Kane, now 16, have known each other for years.

A fourth member of the group, Chris Walker, 18, has pleaded guilty to charges of accessory to murder and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Walker fled the house with a fifth friend before the assault; he testified against Morton.

In his opening statement, Attridge told the jury that immediately after being arrested, Garner offered sheriff's detective William Lawless an evolving story about his part in the killings.

First Garner said he never went in the house, Attridge said. Then Garner said he went in, but Morton did everything while Garner tried to get out of the house.

The third version started getting closer to the version Morton would offer later. Garner said that he may have kicked one of the victims _ accidentally, while jumping over their prostrate forms, he said at first.

But later, Attridge said, Garner told the detective that he might have kicked the person to keep them down _ "So they wouldn't get shot," Attridge said.

In Garner's last statement to the police, Attridge said, Garner said that the friends who went with Morton that night knew Morton had been talking of murder. But Morton had chickened out on his murder boasts before.

This time, Morton called their dare. A rueful Garner told the detective: "We didn't think he'd have the guts to do it."