As the trial of Elliot Morales, the accused killer of Mark Carson, opens in Manhattan Supreme Court, witnesses are saying that the moments before Carson’s death were more confrontational than has been described in earlier press reports.
“I was just trying to defuse the situation,” Oscar Robles testified on February 22, the first day of the trial. “They were both screaming so I just went back into the pizza shop.”
Morales, 36, is charged with second-degree murder as a hate crime, weapons possession, and menacing in the killing. Allegedly, he shot the 32-year-old gay man in the West Village just after midnight on May 18, 2013. Police arrested Morales within minutes of the shooting and he had the gun that was used to kill Carson in his possession. Previously, the shooting has been described in press reports as less of a fight and more of Morales simply insulting then killing Carson.
As trial of Elliot Morales in 2013 slaying opens, video, companions of both men sketch out Sixth Avenue encounter
Robles was with Morales and Joseph Matos that night. Robles’ partner is Matos’ sister, and the three men had some beer in Robles’ home before taking Matos’ car to the West Village. Once there, they briefly parked outside the apartment building where Robles works then began heading north in the car on Sixth Avenue. They stopped to get pizza and that is where they first encountered Carson and Danny Robinson, his longtime friend.
In video from outside the pizza shop, Carson and Robinson can be seen walking northbound side by side on the sidewalk and Morales forces them apart by walking between them. At that moment he is alleged to have said, “Look at you faggots, you look like gay wrestlers.”
While Carson and Robinson, who were wearing brightly colored T-shirts, are out of the video, Morales and Matos are seen turning around then Carson and Robinson come back into the video, which had no sound. While the men appear to be arguing, there is no physical contact. Morales’ tone was “cocky, aggressive,” Robinson said on the stand.
“We turned back and walked towards him to ask what he said,” Robinson said. “It was mostly Mark doing most of the talking. Mark was saying, ‘You’re not going to do nothing.”
Carson and Robinson followed Morales as they resumed walking north on Sixth Avenue, with Morales continuing to insult them.
“He was saying ‘faggot,’ slurs, angry slurs,” Robinson said.
Morales stopped at the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue.
“He was standing there as if he was waiting for us,” Robinson said.
At some point in this very brief encounter, the three men moved about five yards east on Eighth Street. They were about 10 feet apart, and Morales had already displayed the gun he was carrying.
“[Mark] was afraid,” Robinson said. “He froze, he wouldn’t move.”
At that moment, Morales asked Carson, “Are you with him?” and Carson said, “Yes.” Morales allegedly then fired one shot at Carson’s head, killing him.
Robinson said that he and Carson were not carrying weapons and they never threatened Morales. He did not complete his testimony on February 22 and is expected back on the stand on February 23.
Morales, who is representing himself, appears to be banking on the jury seeing this as an alcohol-fueled dispute that turned violent as opposed to intentional murder driven by anti-gay prejudice.
“You’re going to see that what happened was not an act of intent or bigotry,” he said during his opening statement. “You’re going to see that I never sought out Mr. Carson at any time.”
So far, the testimony has not helped him much. Robles said they had “a beer or two” in his apartment when questioned by Shannon Lucey, the assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case. On cross-examination, Morales asked Robles if he saw Matos and him drinking Bacardi in the car as they drove to the West Village. Robles said, “I don’t remember seeing you drinking.”
Robles was subpoenaed by the Manhattan district attorney to give his testimony, and he seemed reluctant to aid either side in the case.
Robinson testified that he and Carson had a drink in his Brooklyn home before taking a cab to Manhattan. Each man had a second drink in the cab.
After Kelly Wheeler, a detective in the Sixth Precinct, testified that she did not recall Morales being intoxicated, he presented her with a copy of a search warrant she had signed that read “slight odor of alcohol on his breath.”
The prosecution is painting a picture of Morales as a man who was looking to use the gun that night. Morales will be confronted with testimony from a bartender, who is gay, whom he allegedly menaced with the gun moments before the shooting, and from Henry Huot, the police officer who arrested him, who will testify that when he ordered Morales to stop on a West Village street moments after the shooting, Morales crouched then “whips around,” but drops the gun, Lucey said in her opening statement.