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Attorneys for identical twin NBA players Marcus and Markieff Morris said their clients played no role in the 2015 blitz attack of their former friend, instead contending the victim was targeting the brothers as a “lottery ticket.”
Opening statements in the brothers’ aggravated-assault trial began Monday morning and laid out the defensive strategy in a case that will hinge on the credibility of its witnesses. The attack was not captured on video surveillance, and neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys noted any physical evidence that would bolster their case.
The jury will instead have to sift through conflicting accounts and a mixed bag of motives to determine whether the Morrises took part in breaking a man’s nose more than two years ago.
The Morris brothers, along with former University of Southern California football safety Gerald Bowman, are each charged with two counts of aggravated assault. The charges stem from the Jan. 24, 2015, beating of Erik Hood, a hometown friend who had a falling out with the twins.
The trial is expected to last 10 days.
Bowman and the twins could face probation or prison time if convicted. Even absent incarceration, a felony conviction would automatically trigger a minimum 10-game suspension for the Morrises, per the NBA’s collective-bargaining agreement.
The Boston Celtics acquired Marcus Morris from the Detroit Pistons this summer, and Markieff Morris is a power forward for the Washington Wizards. Both brothers were on the Phoenix Suns roster at the time of the incident.
Two other defendants in the case, Julius Kane and Christopher Melendez, opted to avoid a trial. They each pleaded guilty last week to two counts of aggravated assault and will be sentenced on Oct. 16.
Prosecutors: ‘An orchestrated attack’
Hood told Phoenix police that he was at a youth basketball tournament in central Phoenix when he spotted the Morris twins and the three other men.
Hood said he was approached by Kane as he was leaving the gym, and that a different person then struck him from behind and pushed him forward. He tried to run after getting back to his feet, but said a group of men caught up to him. Hood said he was punched and kicked in the head while he was being held down.
Hood suffered a broken nose, as well as several cuts and abrasions, prosecutor Daniel Fisher told the jury Monday.
Fisher said the defendants “aided” each other during the assault, and jurors should consider the crime as a group effort as well as individual acts.
“This was an orchestrated attack by five men, including these three defendants,” Fisher said. “Each of them (served) a role.”
Defense: Money, greed and resentment
Defense attorneys offered a different take on the evening. All three defendants are represented by different counsel, but by mid-afternoon it appeared the three attorneys were each following the same account.
Marcus Morris’ attorney Timothy Eckstein was the first to speak. While Eckstein didn’t deny that Hood was assaulted, he placed the blame solely on Kane and Melendez, the two defendants who pleaded guilty.
Eckstein said Hood, who had known the Morrises since growing up in north Philadelphia, was pointing the finger at his clients in hopes for a payout. He alleged that Hood had initially befriended the two to try to facilitate a recruitment to the NBA.
But their relationship soured, Eckstein said, and Hood saw this attack as his second shot at the twins.
“The lottery ticket has come back,” Eckstein said, speculating Hood’s thoughts. “And I have it.”
James Belanger, Markieff Morris’ attorney, followed this thread.
“You’re going to hear about money, you’re going to hear about greed and you’re going to hear about resentment,” he told the jurors. “Those are three things that make people tick.”
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