By DON AINES
4:15 PM EST, November 22, 2012
A man charged with the 2011 robbery of a Hagerstown convenience store was acquitted on all charges by a jury Wednesday in Washington County Circuit Court.
The trial was the second on the armed robbery charge for Lee Colby Morton, 38, of Hagerstown.
In July he was granted a mistrial when one of the victims testified that one of three men who robbed United Petroleum, 890 Pennsylvania Ave., on Dec. 16, 2011, had tattoos on his face.
Before that trial began, Judge Donald E. Beachley granted a motion by defense attorney Andrea Chee-a-tow that victims George and Candace Ghassemi not be allowed to identify Morton, who has facial tattoos, from the witness stand.
The couple had inadvertently identified Morton while being interviewed about the case when they saw an open file with his photo and pointed him out as one of the robbers.
Chee-a-tow argued in July that the identification was improper and inadmissible.
In her closing arguments, Assistant State’s Attorney Gina Cirincion told the jury that the state’s witnesses included two men who testified Morton told them he committed the robbery. A defense alibi witness could not pinpoint the day on which he and Morton were drinking together in a bar when the robbery occurred, while another alibi witness testified she saw Morton four hours after the robbery, she said.
The Ghassemis were in United Petroleum when three masked gunmen entered the store at about 7 p.m. on Dec. 16, according to charging documents. One came behind the counter and struck George Ghassemi and pushed Candace Ghassemi, the documents said.
The robbers made off with $2,000, cigarettes and the victims’ cell phones, Cirincion told the jury.
Morton’s confessions to the men should be believed because Morton implicated the other two robbers by name, Cirincion told the jury.
Noe Pelayo Torrez, 31, and Elijah Herring, 21, both of Hagerstown, were charged and convicted in the United Petroleum robbery. Torrez was sentenced to 25 years in prison, while Herring got an 18-month sentence.
Police had no fingerprints or DNA evidence, no eyewitness identification of Morton, and no weapons or stolen money were found in his possession when he was arrested, Chee-a-tow argued.
Chee-a-tow also told the jurors that one of the men to whom Morton reportedly confessed did so in expectation of a reward, while the other was in jail with Morton and was expecting help from the state in an upcoming bond review.
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