Asheville man convicted of 2 murders may soon get off death row

Attorneys for former Asheville resident James Morgan will present a case to get the judge’s approval for Morgan, a two-time convicted murderer, to have his death sentence commuted to life and get him off death row. (Photo credit: Buncombe County Sheriff's Office)

Family of a woman stabbed to death in 1997 are angry that her killer may soon get his death sentence commuted to life in prison.

Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Alan Thornburg will preside over a MAR (modification for appropriate relief) on Friday. Attorneys for former Asheville resident James Morgan will present a case to get the judge’s approval for Morgan, a two-time convicted murderer, to have his death sentence commuted to life and get him off death row.

Andre King, younger brother of Patrina King, whom Morgan stabbed 48 times the day after Thanksgiving in 1997, said he and Patrina’s other brother and sister, along with their father and Patrina’s children, are angered and think Buncombe County district attorney Todd Williams has no regard for their feelings.

Andre King, who now lives in Columbia, South Carolina, said he received a call from Williams, informing him he planned to agree to a commuted sentence.

“Twenty-one years later, you call me,” King said. “Five days before a hearing to tell me Morgan is going to get released, possibly, from death row. He goes, 'You guys can come up here to the hearing.' I'm like, 'What the hell are we going to come for the hearing for?'. I'm like, 'This is pretty much a done deal.' And he actually told me, 'Yeah.'"

Williams, who did not preside over the case or trial decades ago, said via email he could not comment on a pending matter.

The defense brief outlines what attorneys said is new precedent-setting case law that allows them to argue Morgan should be able to get off death row. The defense team for Morgan states in court papers that Morgan suffers “from serious brain damage which was never known to the jury that sentenced him to death.”

The attorneys go on to write the sentence was therefore unconstitutional, unreliable and should be vacated. The brief also states that “an all-white jury sentenced the African-American defendant for a tragic, drug-fueled murder.”

The brief states recent decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States and North Carolina require resentencing in the case because of new precedent-setting case law. The brief states Morgan did not get a neuropsychological evaluation prior to the trial and that he had repeated head injuries as a child.

King said he couldn’t believe such an argument was being presented to get his sister’s killer off death row so many years after the conviction.

Former District Attorney Ron Moore, who prosecuted the murder case, said “James Morgan was previously convicted in another case of second-degree murder. He was given a life sentence and served 14 years. He then got out, and cold-bloodedly with pre-meditation, murdered Trina King. A jury decided the appropriate sentence was death."

Morgan's hearing is set for 3 p.m. Friday.

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