Balking at a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for as long as 20 years, the convicted felon father of Rock Hill NFL star Jadeveon Clowney appears ready to risk life in prison if convicted of a strip club shooting last summer.
If he wins on a self-defense claim that he was the victim who was shot while protecting himself, David “Chilli Bean” Morgan would be a free man.
To lead his defense, Morgan and Clowney have hired high-powered Columbia defense attorney Todd Rutherford, a state legislator and Democratic leader in the S.C. House.
Morgan, who spent a dozen years in prison while Clowney was growing up, showed up in court Thursday afternoon wearing shorts and an electronic monitor on his ankle that is part of his bail.
The hearing lasted less than 10 minutes. It opened with Matthew Hogge, assistant 16th Circuit solicitor, stating as he looked at Morgan: “The offer has expired.”
“The offer” was 14 to 20 years in prison in exchange for Morgan’s pleading guilty to reduced charges in connection with the shootout outside the strip joint. Morgan has previously scoffed at pleading guilty. He did so again Thursday.
Morgan told visiting Circuit Court Judge Roger Henderson that he understood the deal was now off the table in the shooting, during which Morgan himself was the only one injured. The shooting happened after Morgan was tossed out of the Crazy Horse club.
In previous hearings, one of Morgan’s lawyers, Michael Brown of Rock Hill, said Morgan is claiming that his shooting at a bouncer outside the Crazy Horse was to protect himself.
Morgan, 46, is charged with two counts of attempted murder and three weapons charges. If convicted on all counts, he could face 75 years in prison.
While awaiting trial, Morgan is barred now from leaving the state to watch his son – a star football player for both South Pointe High School and the University of South Carolina – play for the Houston Texans in the NFL. He is free on $125,000 bond and must wear an electronic tracking bracelet. Clowney was the number one pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
A trial could start as soon as Sept. 19. But Rutherford already has two other trials scheduled for September, Brown said, so Morgan’s case could be pushed back until later in the fall.
Ballistics evidence is not yet in, Brown said, and those bullet fragments that need testing by defense experts are “crucial to his defense.”
Prosecutors have said previously in court that Morgan and the strip club employee exchanged gunfire, but they say Morgan shot first after coming back to the club after getting kicked out for sitting on the stage.
Morgan confronted the manager after the club had closed, around 2 a.m., authorities have said, and told the manager he had a gun. The manager told Morgan he also had a gun. Morgan then walked toward trees in the back of the lot, prosecutors have said, raised his hands as if ready to shoot, and shot twice – including a bullet that passed through the hair of the manager’s girlfriend. Morgan was shot in return fire from the club manager.
He was arrested later that day after he went to Piedmont Medical Center for treatment of the bullet wound to his shoulder. He stayed in jail without bond for eight months, until a judge in April set bond of $125,000 and Morgan was released. Thursday was the first time Morgan had been back in court since.
Clowney, who appeared in court in April asking for bond for his father, was not in court Thursday, since the Texans training camp has started.
The hearing ended and Morgan left the courthouse after declining to speak about the case.