The Journal Gazette
Friday, August 16, 2019 1:00 am

Jury convicts man, 28, of murder

Rejects self-defense claim in April shooting of friend

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Jurors needed more than six hours Thursday to convict a Fort Wayne man of murder in the shooting death of a friend who was staying at his home in April.

Antoine Kelley Jr., 28, shot Darius McMorris four times inside a house on South Harrison Street. Police found McMorris, 23, facedown in a bathtub April 1.

Witnesses said Kelley might have been “tweaking on drugs” and was acting strangely before the killing, according to court documents. A woman identified as “Witness 7” in a probable cause affidavit told police another witness said Kelley believed McMorris had “taken him for $300.”

Defense attorney John Watkins argued in a three-day trial that his client was defending himself. Kelley believed his life was threatened, Watkins said.

It was a claim that jurors carefully considered, and Watkins and prosecutors outlined for them specifics of the state's law on self-defense. That was after almost five hours of deliberations.

Watkins said it was reasonable to believe Kelley felt threatened and had to use force. Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Tom Chaille – before jurors left the courtroom for another hour – said Kelley could have left the bathroom where McMorris was killed through a nearby exit or the front door, which was “a straight shot.”

“You don't get to say, 'This guy's reaching into his pocket, therefore I get to kill him,'” Chaille said. “This was not a kill-or-be-killed situation.”

Jurors agreed and, around 5 p.m., returned a verdict finding Kelley guilty of murder. They also agreed with prosecutors that he used a gun to commit the crime, a sentencing enhancement punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Kelley faces up to 85 years in prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled Aug. 29.

“I'm feeling great,” said Derrick McMorris, Darius' father, after Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull read the verdict. He and other family members drove from their homes in Chicago to attend the trial.

“It's been a long four or five months,” Derrick McMorris said, describing his son as a jokester.

“He played a lot,” Darius' mother, Floressa said.

Kelley, Darius McMorris and three other men drove from Chicago to Fort Wayne to “hit a lick,” a slang term than can refer to robbery, the affidavit states. Investigators linked Kelley to the shooting through interviews with witnesses, and the owner of the home reportedly said he rented it to Kelley.

Witnesses directed police to Tennessee, where Kelley had a girlfriend, and he was arrested there days after the shooting.

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