LIVINGSTON – During Martin Morgan’s second-degree murder trial, the jury heard from several witnesses how victim Michael Neufeld approached him before Morgan shot him in the face.
Neufeld walked toward Morgan, or he ran toward him or just stood up and was shot in mid-sentence.
But the jury did not believe the defense’s argument that Morgan was protecting himself, voting 12-0 Thursday to convict Morgan.
Judge Jeffery Johnson scheduled sentencing for 1 p.m. Oct. 24 in 21st Judicial District Court, when he will sentence Morgan to life in prison without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.
The jury deliberated 19 minutes before asking the judge if it could see the legal definition of second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Johnson brought the jury back into the courtroom and said he could not legally give them a written copy, but read the definitions to them, just as he did when he gave his instructions to the jury.
The jury went back into deliberations and 42 minutes later came back with the guilty verdict.
It also voted 11-1 to convict Morgan on a count of obstruction of justice by tampering with evidence.
The state charged that sometime after midnight on July 1, 2018, four people arrived at a garage called a “man cave” at a home on Evelyn Drive in Denham Springs, Morgan shot Neufeld.
Five people were in the building. Witnesses in the two-day trial said only 3 to 4 minutes passed before the shooting.
That led to the bizarre sequence of events where another man, Duane Bissell, cut Neufeld’s throat, then cut his body into nine parts, where they were packed into three barrels.
All witnesses agreed Morgan did not cut up the body, but some testified he ordered homeowner Robert Taylor to dispose of the barrels.
Morgan did not take the stand to testify.
Assistant District Attorney Greg Murphy described the case as a “crazy story” after the verdict came in.
“I have been doing this a long time,” Murphy said. “This is the craziest case I’ve had.”
While some details varied with each witness, Murphy said the witnesses all described the same series of events that led to Neufeld’s death.
“They saw things from different angles or positions, but they didn’t differ that greatly,” he said.
In his closing statement, Murphy said, “I don’t know if a reasonable person will understand this world.
“Everyone in that room was on some substance,” he said.
Defense attorney Allen Harvey said in his closing that the jury should not consider the lifestyles of the people who were present that night.
“The law doesn’t look at people’s character, it’s looking at the behavior at the moment,” he said. “It’s what happened in those few minutes.”
Harvey said the jury had to consider whether Morgan’s actions were reasonable.
“Is it reasonable for Mr. Martin to believe (Neufeld) had a gun when he approached him? It sounds reasonable to me,” Harvey said.
On Wednesday, Cheyenne Smith, 19, who was Morgan’s girlfriend in July 2018, testified she saw him shoot Neufeld when he “buckwalked” toward Morgan.
Smith demonstrated what she meant before the jury by raising her arms up and down.
On Thursday, Taylor testified some words were said between Morgan, who was standing, and a sitting Neufeld.
Neufeld stood up and said, “I ain’t …” when Morgan shot him in the face, Taylor said.
Sage Palermo, a friend of Neufeld who drove him and two other people to the house, testified that Morgan had two guns.
Palermo was seated on a bar stool and Morgan was “at an angle” near him when Neufeld got up, Palermo said.
He said Neufeld was coming toward him and Morgan when Morgan shot Neufeld.
He added it looked like Neufeld might have been reaching under his shirt, but “I feel he was scared, he was trying to protect me.”
All witnesses asked said they never saw Neufeld with a weapon.
Two days after the shooting, law enforcement officers carried out a search warrant at the garage for an unrelated crime.
Brian Watson testified during the search Morgan and Cheyenne Smith were found in a room on the second floor and a 9 mm Sig Sauer was found.
In a stipulation, an agreement between the prosecution and defense, both sides agreed the gun was tested by the State Police Crime Lab and a bullet recovered from Neufeld’s leg matched the weapon.
Taylor was the second witness to testify in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs since he is in the Livingston Parish Detention Center facing charges related to the crime.
When Nancy Logarbo knocked on the door, Taylor testified Morgan looked through a small space in the blackened window.
“I don’t know who they are,” Morgan said, according to Taylor, as Morgan pulled a gun.
Taylor opened the door and Logarbo walked in, he said.
Only minutes later did Neufeld stand up and Morgan shot him as he was speaking, Taylor said.
Taylor testified he was scared of Morgan and went back to his house. He said he did not take part in dismembering Neufeld.
Asked by Harvey about why he was testifying Taylor said, “That man put a gun in a man’s face and shot him and put a gun in my face. Y’all couldn’t stop me from testifying here. My family was threatened.”
Palmero also testified he could hear Neufeld gasping for air after he was shot. He said Duane Bissell cut Neufeld’s throat.
Palermo also testified he was present in the building when Neufeld was dismembered and put into three barrels.
A person in the building – Palermo said he did not remember who – told him he couldn’t leave and Palermo said he feared being killed if he tried to leave.
He stayed there three days, Palermo said, until he got a ride with someone who had come to buy drugs.
Logarbo testified she called Palermo to give her and Bissell a ride from Hammond to Baton Rouge to buy drugs.
But the car did not have enough gas, so she directed Palermo to Evelyn Drive, she said, where she thought a man named “Ducy” would be.
Logarbo said she was sitting on a bar stool facing Taylor when she heard a gunshot and Neufeld bumped into her as he fell to the floor.
She said Morgan pointed a gun at her.
Palmero and Bisell had a discussion about calling 911 for Neufeld or “putting him out of his misery,” before Bissell cut his throat, Logarbo said.
Logarbo said she did not see Bissell do it but heard the sound of it.
She said she went into a camper parked near the building and did not see the dismemberment but Morgan texted her about it.
When he texted her that it was over, Logarbo said she had to lift a large bay door to get in since the other door was padlocked.
When Logarbo walked in, Morgan was standing there holding Neufeld’s head, she said.