“In Middletown, the connection between those ignored by society who then come back to cause harm is difficult to overlook.”
In the days and hours after the Newtown shooting, my thoughts turned to Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, the Wesleyan student who was senselessly gunned down in Broad Street Books in 2009. A prefrosh at the time, I wasn’t on campus. I followed the tragedy, in horror and shock, from the safety of my parents’ house, and I fielded uncomfortable questions from high school classmates who asked if I was going to “the school where that girl was killed.”
I’m not the only member of the Wesleyan community for whom Sandy Hook triggered memories of 2009. First came a blog post from Professor Claire Potter, who reflects on faculty experiences in the wake of Justin-Jinich’s murder and argues forcefully against proposals to arm teachers. Then followed a Huffington Post column from President Roth, who advocates for gun control and writes, “If we falter, if we think the politics too difficult or too complicated, we should remember Johanna.”
“Violence and Mental Illness in Middletown, Connecticut” is the latest, a sprawling Atlantic piece that weaves together the shooting of Justin-Jinich, the 2012 outrage over Middletown elementary school “scream rooms,” and the horrific 1989 stabbing of a young girl on Main Street into a portrait of a small city still haunted by violence and stigmatization of the mentally ill. (David Peterson, the schizophrenic man who stabbed nine-year-old Jessica Short as her family looked on, had just escaped from Connecticut Valley Hospital, where Stephen Morgan is now held. Like Morgan, Peterson was later ruled insane.)
In December, Stephen Morgan was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 2009 shooting of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’09. At the time of the verdict, we reported that Morgan would subsequently be sent to Whiting Forensic Institute in Middletown for a 60-day evaluation. “If Morgan is deemed sane at that time,” reported the Middletown Press, “he will be released back into society.” That alarming possibility has been avoided: as of today’s mental evaluation, Morgan will be committed to Whiting, a maximum-security psychiatric hospital unit in Middletown, for up to 60 years:
A state mental health expert testified during a Superior Court commitment hearing that Morgan, the Massachusetts man who gunned down a Wesleyan student at a cafe bookstore near campus in 2009, is delusional, psychotic and paranoid and a danger to himself and society.
Susan McKinley from the Whiting Forensic Institute told a three-judge panel that Morgan should remain at Whiting, the maximum-security psychiatric unit at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown.
Morgan’s attorney argued that Morgan should be held for 45 years, while prosecutor Timothy Liston argued for the maximum term of 75. However long he’s held, the mental health expert testified, Morgan remains deeply delusional and confused about events relating to the 2009 shooting:
“His thinking is still disorganized… He really doesn’t have a realistic appreciation of how disturbed his thinking has become,” McKinley said.
Stephen Morgan, who was tried this month by a three-judge panel for the 2009 shooting of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, has been declared not guilty by reason of insanity, reports the Middletown Press:
A three-judge panel has found Stephen Morgan not guilty of murder in the 2009 fatal shooting of Wesleyan University student Johanna Justin-Jinich, saying he was insane at the time. [ . . . ] A three-judge panel announced the verdict Friday in Middlesex Superior Court after deliberating a little less than two hours. Closing arguments were wrapped up around 11 a.m. Friday morning, and the verdict came in around 12:40 p.m.
In addition to the murder charge, Morgan was also declared not guilty of intimidation based on bigotry or bias and carrying a pistol without a permit. Perhaps most disturbing, however, is the possibility that Morgan is declared sane in two months and released back into society after a two-month stay at the Whiting Forensic Institute right in Middletown:
Morgan will now be sent to Whiting Forensic Institute in Middletown for 60 days, after which he will be evaluated. A new court date has been set for Feb. 29 to hear the mental evaluation. If Morgan is deemed sane at that time, he will be released back into society.
Two and a half years after the tragic shooting of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, the trial of Stephen Morgan began yesterday in Middletown. (For those who may not have been around in 2009: Morgan, a 32-year-old Marblehead, Mass., native is charged with the murder of Justin-Jinich on May 6, 2009, in Red & Black Cafe.) “Morgan chose the three-judge panel over a jury for his trial,” reports the Associated Press, and he is choosing to plead insanity. Whether or not the judges accept the insanity claim, the stakes are high:
If convicted of murder, he could face up to 60 years in prison or be committed to a high-security state psychiatric hospital, depending on the judges’ ruling on the insanity claim. He was also charged with two other felonies — intimidation due to bias and carrying a pistol without a permit. [ . . . ] Both the prosecution and defense are expected to put psychiatrists on the witness stand to testify about Morgan’s mental health.
Eye witnesses to the shooting took the stand on Wednesday, including Susan Gerhardt ’09, Barry Finder ’09, and Capt. Sean Moriarty of the Middletown Police Department.
Last spring, in the immediate aftermath of the Broad Street shooting, the Middletown Police provided the Wes Public Affairs office with a photo of the suspect, Stephen Morgan…and we all noted how it looked nothing like the man in the surveillance camera footage.
After some finger-pointing between Wes and MPD, it was discovered that the initial photo was actually of a Cornell sociology professor by the name of…Stephen Morgan. That Stephen Morgan has now filed suit against the University, claiming he suffered “humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress” because of the mix-up:
New details about the Johanna Justin-Jinich case from the Hartford Courant probably won’t change what anyone thinks about what happened last May. But if you’re interested in Stephen Morgan’s Internet search history, and how Johanna was aware of him being a problem long before her death, read on.
Stephen Morgan, the accused killer of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, appeared in court last Wednesday and pleaded not guilty on all three charges leveled against him: murder, intimidation based on bigotry, and carrying an unlicensed pistol.
However, according to the Middletown Press, the case will be continued to October 20th while evidence related to the crime is processed:
[This text is from a previous post on the trial of Stephen Morgan. It has been split to this post so readers can comment on our approach to future coverage of the trial without having to read discussion of the trial. Please keep your comments on this post related ONLY to the approach we are taking to the trial – it has been split so those affected don’t have to relive anything. I generally hate censorship, but I WILL remove comments that are not about the read mores and our continued coverage; we want to keep this thread as safe a place for those still grieving.]
So there is a big question of how to go about updates on the trial of Stephen Morgan. Wesleying provided lots of coverage following the shooting, and it makes sense to continue that coverage with updates on the pursuit of justice. Continued coverage will allow us to provide information and updates to those who are still hurting and want to know without forcing them to read through news articles that retell the tragedy. On the other hand, we don’t want to delay the healing process with prolonged coverage. It seems that what makes the most sense is to post major updates on the trial, but to tuck them away in read more links. Future posts on the trial will consist of little more than a title and a read more link. Hopefully this will allow us to keep people updated on the case, while allowing you to still visit and scroll the site without too sharp a reminder of the tragedy.
As always, you are free to leave your thoughts in the comments of these posts, but remember that as much as your anger is justified, we cannot allow any comments which contain threats of violence and so they will be censored.
And again, our hearts go out to those still in mourning over Johanna’s death, and we hope you have been able to find places that offer support and comfort to help you through these times.
As mentioned in this post, we are covering the Stephen Morgan trial, but using read more links. This is the first of those updates. Again, feel free to leave comments, but please avoid any threats of violence – we really don’t want to have to censor anything. As always, our hearts go out to those still grieving.
[Edit by David @6:24 EST
– I realized that those who wish to avoid reading about the trial, but who want to comment on this approach, are currently unable to comment without having to see discussion of the trial.]
[Edit by David @7:55 EST
– The post has been split. See above link for the discussion of why.]
According to the Hartford Courant, Stephen Morgan’s attorney Richard Brown asked for and received a continuance “so that he could have more time to discuss the pros and cons of a probable cause hearing with his client.” The next court date is set for June 9.
It also looks like his bail will remain at $15 million.
Hartford Courant: No Plea Yet In Wesleyan Murder Case