MIDDLETOWN — The prosecution of Stephen P. Morgan, charged in the fatal shooting of a Wesleyan University student in May 2009, has been set back months because an expert hired in August to evaluate the suspect's mental health is too sick to continue.
Richard Brown, Morgan's attorney, said the state's mental health expert recently became ill and was unable to complete an evaluation of Morgan. Details of the expert's illness were not disclosed during a hearing for Morgan this week in Superior Court.
Middlesex State's Attorney Timothy Liston said Wednesday that he is looking for another expert to do the evaluation.
"It's a situation beyond our control," Liston said.
Morgan's lawyers say their client was mentally ill when he fatally shot Johanna Justin-Jinich, 21, of Timnath, Colo., inside the cafe at Broad Street Books near campus on May 6, 2009. In court documents filed earlier this year, they said two physicians who evaluated Morgan will testify about his "mental disease or defect" when he stands trial in the student's death.
The physicians' report has not been made public by Morgan's lawyers. Brown has also declined to comment on Morgan's mental health was at the time of the shooting. However, the lawyers say that Morgan's mental illness was severe enough for them to mount an insanity defense.
When such a defense is proposed, prosecutors often seek to have their defendants evaluated independently.
According to the state insanity defense statute, Morgan's lawyers will have to show that at the time of the fatal shooting, Morgan "lacked substantial capacity, as a result of mental disease or defect, either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to control his conduct within the requirements of the law."
Defense attorneys also can argue that mentally ill defendants may have understood that their behavior was wrong, but were unable to control it.
Relatives of Justin-Jinich could not be reached for comment about the delay Wednesday.
Morgan, 31, a former Navy petty officer from Massachusetts, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, intimidation based on bigotry or bias, and carrying a pistol without a permit. Police said he walked into the cafe and shot the Wesleyan junior several times.
The daytime shooting prompted a nearly two-day campus lockdown and a nationwide search for Morgan who, according to a New York City police report, had threatened Justin-Jinich in 2007, when they both attended a New York University summer program.
After the shooting, investigators found a journal they believe belonged to Morgan that contained writings about a killing spree targeting Jewish people and "beautiful and smart" Wesleyan students, according to court records. Justin-Jinich came from a Jewish family and her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor.
Morgan turned himself in the night after the shooting. He is being held at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown. He is scheduled to appear again in court on Feb. 1.