Steven Mason was convicted of capital murder last month for the shooting death of Ke’Lei Morris, but not once during his five-week trial did prosecutors suggest he pulled the trigger.
Instead, Mobile County assistant district attorneys Jennifer Wright and Tandice Hogan convinced jurors that Mason meticulously selected, trained and paid a dying friend — a cystic fibrosis patient he’d been a nurse for at Mobile Infirmary — to do the deed on his behalf.
In her closing arguments, Hogan told jurors that Mason “knew how to pick the perfect weapon,” and she wasn’t referring to the .410 shotgun that was used to shoot Morris in the head in the breezeway of her apartment complex on February 2, 2015. She was referring to Adam Miller.
“He knew [Miller] wouldn’t be around that long,” Wright said. “He knew who he was picking.”
Morris was a respiratory therapist, who witnesses said went into the profession after battling asthma as a child. After her murder, two years went by before an arrest was made, and while the community wondered what led to the senseless killing, there were already whispers at work.
Mason, a nurse, and Morris both worked at Mobile Infirmary and had dated off and on in 2014, but when she wanted to distance herself from the relationship, Mason did not handle it well. There was a lot of “controlling behaviors,” according to Wright, who said another woman Mason was involved with at the time said he once exclaimed: “Don’t nobody leave me, I leave them.”
“Steven Mason was a nurse for Adam Miller, and over time, they became close friends,” she said. “Around the end of 2014 Mason asked if Miller would do something for him — would he do him a favor, take care of someone for him. Eventually he asked him if he would he kill someone.”
According to Wright, Miller told investigators he agreed to kill Morris for $2,700 in cash.
While there were some texts between Miller and Mason with some “coded language,” the majority of the plan was discussed in person — either in Miller’s hospital room at Mobile Infirmary or at Mason’s house.
Those discussions and other steps Mason took leading up to the murder were crucial in showing an incredible level of premeditation. It’s also insight prosecutors likely wouldn’t have even gotten without Miller’s full cooperation.
On the stand, Miller said Mason coached him extensively ahead of the murder and paid for or provided everything he’d need to carry it out. He said Mason took the murder weapon — a .410 shotgun — from another girl he was seeing and sawed it off so it would be easier to conceal.
He also testified that Mason bought the clothes and ski mask he wore that night, paid to get his windows tinted so that he couldn’t be identified by security cameras and took him on a walkthrough of Morris’ apartment complex — showing him where she would park, where she lived, how she normally walked to her door and how to avoid cameras.
“Steven Mason wanted to make sure — and stressed to Miller — that the murder occur while he was at work at Mobile Infirmay so he could set an alibi,” Wright said. “He was also very conscious to make sure he was in the breakroom and in places where people would see him.”
The morning after the murder, hospital records showed Mason spent more than 20 minutes in Miller’s room, which he testified was when the two discussed how everything went. Miller was able to come and go as he pleased from the hospital since he was a long term patient.
Wright downplayed the impact of Miller’s testimony at trial as the “icing on the cake” that prosecutors had already built. She noted they were preparing to move forward to trial without Miller’s testimony in 2018, adding a good bit of his story was confirmed through receipts, surveillance footage and testimony from other witnesses who knew Mason and Morris.
Still, Miller’s cooperation did refocus the trial against Mason and the deal he received for it was substantial — so much that it was a key focus of Mason’s defense. In exhchange for testifying, Miller admitted murder and will only serve three years in jail as part of a 20-year split sentence.
Wright acknowledged the significant reduction, but said the deal was made in consultation with Morris’ family. She also noted that testimony at trial from Miller’s doctor suggested he likely only has one to two years left to live. As of this week, Miller was still in the hospital in Mobile.
“We have always believed and we believe more firmly now with the evidence we have that Steven Mason was the mastermind behind all of this,” Wright said. “Adam Miller has no criminal history or anything like that and had no motive and no purpose to go out and kill someone.”
After being convicted of capital murder, Mason will face sentencing on July 17 and the death penality will be on the table. After that, Miller is expected to plead guilty to murder and then be formally sentenced within the parameters of the agreement for testifying.
Mason will then face several other charges that stemmed from the investigation.
As Lagniappe has reported, Mason is accused of — not once, but twice — seeking to have witnesses killed in Mobile County Metro Jail before his trial for Morris’ murder.
At last count, he was facing six felony charges of solicitaion to commit murder, but those are details that the jurrors who convicted Mason were not allowed to know. Prosecutors also weren’t allowed to tell the jury that Mason was previously convicted of murder in 2002 for the death of 17-year-old Mesha Anglin. That case was sealed because he was a juvenile. It might seem odd to the unfamiliar, but introducing those types of “prior bad acts” is considered to be prejudicial to the defendant. In fact, the Mobile County District Attorney’s office has had more than one capital conviction overturned on those exact grounds in recent years.
With conviction in hand, though, Wright praised the work that her staff and investigators from the Mobile Police Department’s (MPD) homicide unit put into solving a case that left the community rattled for two years and confused about who the killer was for two more.
“It has been an extremely long journey for everyone involved in this case, and none more so than the Morris family, who are incredible people,” she said. “The MPD homicide unit also deserves enormous credit because they never gave up on this case. It took years to get an arrest, and they were relentless. I think that was important for everyone in this community due to the nature of this crime and making sure justice was served for this totally innocent victim.”
Lagniappe reached out to one of Mason’s attorneys but did not receive a response.
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