Robert Morris was sentenced to death by the State of Florida for a robbery murder. According to court documents Robert Morris would beat to death the victim Violet Livingston before robbing her home. Robert Morris would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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On the morning of September 2, 1994, the body of the 88-year-old victim, Violet Livingston, was found in her Lakeland apartment by her son. When the police responded to the murder scene, they found the victim lying on her bedroom floor between two beds. Her head was wrapped tightly in bed sheets. There was blood on the walls, the furniture, and her walking cane, which was on one of the beds. Both bedrooms were in disarray.
The point of entry to the apartment appeared to be the kitchen window on the south side of the apartment. The screen was off the window and was leaning against the building. The window was shut but the glass was broken. Window latches and broken glass were found on the ground. Near the window was a yellow chair sitting underneath the porch light. The porch light cover was off the fixture and was lying on the ground.
According to the associate medical examiner, Dr. Alexander Melamud, the victim died as a result of multiple injuries. She had sustained bruises, lacerations, abrasions, rib fractures, brain hemorrhage, and mechanical asphyxia due to suffocation. Some of the injuries were consistent with her having been beaten with her walking cane. There were neck injuries consistent with strangulation, and wounds to her right forearm, hand, and knee, which could be classified as defensive wounds. Dr. Melamud could not determine the sequence of the injuries, or when the victim became unconscious, but he determined she was alive for a short period of time after the attack began.
At trial, the four main categories of evidence the State presented against Morris were: (1) DNA test results; (2) Morris’s fingerprint on a lightbulb outside the victim’s residence; (3) Morris’s possession of various items taken from the victim’s residence; and (4) the testimony of Damion Sastre, a jailhouse informant. Additionally, the State presented further inculpatory evidence that Morris had healing scars on his forearms and hands, and that the police obtained a bloody glove from Morris’s apartment.
First, the State’s DNA experts testified that Morris could not be excluded as the source of the DNA obtained from two locations on the victim’s body and from the kitchen curtain. According to the State’s population geneticist, the frequency of this DNA pattern in the African-American database would be 1 in 7.1 million (meaning the chance that the DNA was not from Morris was between 1 in 710,000 to 1 in 71 million). Morris presented his own population geneticist, who testified that the frequency of the DNA pattern within the African-American population is 1 in 2.2 million.
Second, the police obtained a total of eleven fingerprints of value for comparison from the interior and exterior of the victim’s apartment. No prints found inside the victim’s apartment matched Morris’s fingerprints. However, a single print, obtained from the partially unscrewed lightbulb outside the kitchen window, was later matched to Morris. Of the remaining prints, one print belonged to the victim’s son, four belonged to a police department intern, and five were never matched to anyone.
Third, the police found several items known to have belonged to the victim in and around Morris’s residence. These included coin wrappers, coin booklets, a coin sorter, and a television. Additionally, witnesses who worked at a sandwich shop and a gas station near the victim’s apartment identified Morris as the man who purchased items with rare coins that were missing from the victim’s coin collection.
Finally, Damion Sastre, a convicted felon, testified that Morris told him in jail that Morris committed the murder. Sastre testified that because Morris told Sastre that Morris had previously stolen a bicycle from the victim’s apartment complex, Sastre suggested that Morris testify that he touched the lightbulb during that previous theft. However, Sastre also testified that Morris told him there was a screened porch into which Morris had to cut a slit to gain access to the victim’s apartment, but then acknowledged, upon being shown a photograph on cross-examination, that there was no screened porch to the victim’s apartment.
Morris took the stand in his own defense and stated that he did not kill the victim or break into her apartment. He testified that he went to the victim’s apartment complex to play basketball, but nobody was there. He then stated that he remembered that a friend had asked him if he could get a bicycle for her, so he walked to the back of the apartments and saw a bike on the top stairs. Morris admitted he unscrewed the lightbulb on the victim’s porch and went upstairs. However, he testified that he was unable to obtain the bicycle because it was secured by a lock. He testified that on his way home, he found a brown paper sack containing a coin sorter, coin books, a chain necklace, and some little bags containing coins. He spent the coins in a neighborhood sandwich shop and a gas station. Morris further testified that he never told Sastre that he killed the victim, took coins out of her apartment, or gained entry through a screened porch. Finally, Morris testified that Sastre must have obtained the information about which Sastre testified by looking at Morris’s discovery materials to which Sastre had access in prison.
The jury convicted Morris of first-degree murder, armed burglary of a dwelling or battery committed during burglary of a dwelling, and robbery with a deadly weapon.