MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — A woman testified Wednesday she was buying a sandwich from a Wesleyan University student as she was shot to death at an off-campus bookstore cafe two years ago and described a chaotic scene with people screaming as they realized the popping noises they heard were gunfire.
Susan Gerhardt, then a Wesleyan senior, took the stand on the first day of Stephen Morgan’s murder trial, which is being heard by a three-judge panel in Middletown, home of the small liberal arts school.
“I heard four loud popping noises,” Gerhardt said. “Workers were screaming, as were the patrons in the cafe.”
Gerhardt said the gunman was an arms-length away from her and fired more shots at Johanna Justin-Jinich, 21, of Timnath, Colo., as she lay wounded. She said the shooter then fled, after looking at her and two friends.
Some relatives of Justin-Jinich wept during her testimony.
Justin-Jinich’s co-worker, Amy Tosto, testified that she was about 12 feet away when Justin-Jinich was shot.
“I saw her fall to the ground and saw a shooter shooting a gun at her toward the ground,” Tosto said.
“She had clearly been shot. She was bleeding heavily. She was just out of it. She was just moaning,” Tosto said. Tosto said she and another co-worker stayed with Justin-Jinich until paramedics arrived.
Justin-Jinich was working at The Red and Black Cafi inside Broad Street Books on May 6, 2009, when Morgan allegedly walked in wearing a wig and shot her several times.
An arrest affidavit says a police officer questioned Morgan outside the bookstore shortly after the shooting but let him go. Morgan, 32, of Marblehead, Mass., surrendered the next night about 10 miles away in Meriden.
Morgan’s defense is pursuing an insanity defense in the case, which stunned and frightened the Wesleyan community over two days and caused a campus lockdown.
After the shooting, but before Morgan was arrested, police found journals in his car and announced that he had written about killing Justin-Jinich, going on a shooting spree on campus and targeting Jews. Justin-Jinich’s family is Jewish, and her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor.
Morgan and Justin-Jinich apparently met in 2007 while attending a summer class at New York University. Justin-Jinich filed a harassment complaint with police that summer claiming she was getting unwanted phone calls and insulting emails from Morgan, but she didn’t pursue criminal charges.
Prosecutor Timothy Liston called several police officers Wednesday to testify about the aftermath of the killing.
State police Detective Jeffrey Payette testified about video and photos he took of the aftermath of the crime scene showing that the shooter left behind a trail of evidence including the 9 mm handgun used in the killing, Morgan’s computer and a wig and sunglasses he wore as a disguise. The shooter fired the gun seven times and nine bullets — including some hollow points — remained in the weapon, according to testimony.
The photos and video also showed that Morgan’s car remained in the parking lot as police investigated.
Morgan’s lawyer, Richard Brown, asked questions about how criminals normally act after crimes.
Brown asked Payette, for example, if perpetrators usually try to hide evidence to cover up their crimes. The detective said yes.
The evidence trail suggested that the shooter went down into the bookstore’s basement from the ground-level floor after the killing, ran back up some stairs and left the building. Brown suggested in his questioning that the killer could have run out an exit door on the ground level and that the shooter’s actions were highly unusual.
Also Wednesday, a state police detective read from a journal left at the crime scene in which Morgan remarked about the “smart and beautiful people” at Wesleyan and wrote: “I think it okay to kill Jews and go on a killing spree at this school.”
Police also said they found an anti-Semitic book, “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” in Morgan’s hotel room.
The announcement about Morgan’s writings prompted Wesleyan officials to lock buildings on campus, tell students to stay indoors and tell staff members to stay home. A synagogue across the street from the bookstore closed its doors temporarily, and congregants considered canceling Sabbath services.
Morgan chose the three-judge panel over a jury for his trial. 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 also was charged with two other felonies: intimidation due to bias and carrying a pistol without a permit.
About a dozen relatives and friends of Justin-Jinich and about a half-dozen relatives and friends of Morgan attended the trial’s first day. All of them declined to comment.
Morgan was dressed in a beige prison uniform and his legs were shackled. He rocked forward and back in his chair at the defense table and his legs were shaking up and down at times. He didn’t speak.
The case is being heard by Superior Court Judges Susan Handy, Julia Aurigemma and James Bentivegna.