State v. Morton
|966 N.W.2d 57,310 Neb. 355
|12 November 2021
|STATE of Nebraska, appellee, v. Natavian Q. MORTON, appellant.
|Supreme Court of Nebraska
Jonathan M. Braaten, Lincoln, and Mona L. Burton, of Anderson, Creager & Wittstruck, P.C., L.L.O., for appellant.
Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Matthew Lewis, for appellee.
Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik, and Freudenberg, JJ.
In the defendant's appeal to the Nebraska Court of Appeals from plea-based convictions of manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, the Court of Appeals reduced the sentence imposed for the firearm conviction as excessive. We granted the State's petition for further review assigning as error the Court of Appeals’ reduction of the sentence.
Natavian Q. Morton was originally charged with second degree murder,1 a Class IB felony; two counts of use of a firearm to commit a felony,2 both Class IC felonies; and unlawful discharge of a firearm,3 a Class ID felony. The charged offenses were alleged to occur at a time when Morton was 16 years of age. Morton's motion to transfer to juvenile court was denied after a hearing in August 2018.
Pursuant to a plea agreement, Morton pled no contest to manslaughter,4 a Class IIA felony, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, a Class II felony. After a colloquy between the court and Morton regarding the potential penalties for the offenses and the rights he was waiving by entering no contest pleas, the State provided a factual basis.
The State informed the trial court that on March 26, 2018, a young man had been shot and killed. The dispute had originated earlier in the day at a high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, where a fight had occurred which resulted in the suspension of several individuals, including Perrion Bluford and
three residents of the house where the shooting occurred. The Lincoln Police Department investigator in charge of investigating the shooting also learned that there had been electronic communication between the two groups involved in the fight regarding continuing the fight later on that same day.
Video surveillance from another Lincoln high school, which Morton attended, showed Morton, wearing a black jacket, blue jeans, and tan shoes, leaving the high school at approximately 1:06 p.m. with two other individuals and getting into one of two vehicles that came to pick them up. One of the vehicles belonged to Bluford.
The Lincoln Police Department was detailed to the area of South 47th Street and Cooper Avenue at approximately 1:56 p.m. on a report of 15 people fighting outside a residence. Dispatch further indicated that someone had been hit by a vehicle and that shots had been fired. Upon arrival, officers observed an injured person on the porch who had suffered a gunshot wound. The victim, later identified as Edgar Union, Jr., died at the scene.
An individual involved in the incident informed law enforcement that Morton was one of approximately eight people who went to the residence to fight the occupants. Upon arrival, a verbal altercation ensued between the groups.
While this was occurring, a white sport utility vehicle (SUV) driven by a woman arrived with several passengers who exited
the SUV and ran onto the porch. Later, the woman driving the SUV made a comment about running people over, reentered the SUV, drove in a circle, and struck an individual in the yard.
The witness then heard a gunshot, but did not know who fired it, because he was trying to help the victim struck by the SUV. Other witnesses corroborated much of the same information, identified Morton as someone present at the scene of the shooting, and stated that they saw an outline of a gun in his jacket pocket. No witnesses stated they saw Morton fire the gun.
An arrest warrant was issued for Morton on April 24, 2018, who was located and arrested in Mississippi. Police
interviewed Morton, who waived his Miranda rights and told officers that after he was picked up at the high school he attended, he rode with Bluford to the scene of the shooting. Upon their arrival at the scene, Bluford handed him the gun while they were still inside the vehicle and asked him to hold it. He agreed and put the gun in his jacket pocket. Morton admitted to firing the shot that killed the victim and provided information consistent with that of other witnesses. Specifically, Morton confirmed that there was a verbal altercation between his group and the occupants of the residence on South 47th Street, including those who had arrived in a white SUV with the victim as a passenger.
Morton told the officers that as the occupants of the SUV walked toward the porch, he saw that one of them had a gun in his hand. Further, Morton stated the woman driving the white SUV threatened to hit people with her SUV and then, in fact, did hit an individual with the SUV.
Morton stated that when the woman in the SUV was trying to hit people, he was running back toward the vehicle he had arrived in, but that the people in his group began yelling at him to shoot. Morton described facing the house, but walking backward toward the vehicle, when he pulled the gun out of his pocket and fired one shot toward the house.
Morton stated he was not aiming at anyone in particular, but was just pointing the gun in the direction of the house and porch. Morton did not claim to be aiming at the SUV in self-defense. There is no indication from the factual basis that the former passenger of the SUV, whom Morton had observed with a gun, had aimed it at Morton or anyone else in his group.
The district court accepted Morton's pleas, found the factual basis sufficient, and found Morton guilty. The court ordered a presentence investigation be completed and continued that matter for sentencing.
Defense counsel noted at sentencing that Morton was "extremely remorseful" for the poor decisions he made, which
resulted in the "untimely death" of the victim, and that he fully acknowledged the seriousness of the particular situation. Defense counsel noted that these comments for sentencing were not to undermine the seriousness of the situation but to provide context and some mitigation for the court to consider in hopefully imposing lenient sentences.
Defense counsel stated that a number of factors present in this case warranted sentences of probation or a minimal period of incarceration. He highlighted the fact that Morton had no prior criminal record whatsoever and was only 16 years old at the time of the incident and 17 years old at sentencing. Based on Morton's age, defense counsel highlighted U.S. Supreme Court cases that discuss three primary factors that supported his argument that children should be treated differently than
an adult, such as the following: Children lack maturity and have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, children are more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressure, and a child's character is not as well informed as an adult.
Further, defense counsel noted Morton's traumatic past experience in his life, in that Morton was 13 years old and home at the time his father was murdered in the living room. This traumatic situation and the lack of a constant, steady male influence in his life during the very formative years of his life rendered him incapable of properly responding to the violently escalating situation during this incident.
Defense counsel further pointed out that it was Morton's assertion he was not the one who originally obtained the gun used in this particular incident, that he did not have a reputation for carrying guns, that Morton was not involved in the original circumstances that led to the altercation, and that Morton believed he was responding to a perceived threat when he fired the shot.
Defense counsel also asserted Morton did not have any intent to kill the victim in this incident. Rather, the statements provided by Morton suggested that he fired one shot from across the street with a trajectory that was well over the heads
of anyone standing in the yard, but that the victim "was in an elevated position on the porch, and that's where the bullet ended up striking him."
Counsel asked the court to consider that during the 511 days Morton was at the juvenile detention center, he received 66 credits toward his high school diploma, underwent therapy and counseling, and received numerous positive reviews from various teachers. Counsel submitted to the court that Morton's efforts during his time at the juvenile detention center showed he is someone capable and willing for rehabilitation and...
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