Four dead babies - all born to the same father, all smothered as they slept - can be the work only of a calculated serial killer, Assistant District Attorney Ed Cameron told jurors yesterday in closing arguments at Robert Morris' murder trial.
"Two babies in '95 and then two more after that - what are the odds?" Cameron said. "Where there's smoke, there's fire - and that's exactly what we've got here."
But defense lawyers for Morris, 28, who is accused of killing his two daughters in 1995 and his two sons by another woman in 2002 and 2003, assailed the prosecution's witnesses, questioned the coroner's findings, and continued to portray Morris as a loving father who would never hurt his children.
Defense lawyer Daniel Greene was particularly pointed in his criticism of the city's deputy medical examiner, Ian Hood, who initially ruled the third child a victim of sudden infant death syndrome. Hood changed his finding to homicide after detectives had linked Morris to the other deaths.
"The doctor's thinking was wrong, it was flawed, and it has no basis in logic," Greene said. "He should not suddenly, on the basis of some guesswork, completely negate the work he had done in the past."
The first two babies, 18-month-old Shainara Payne and 5-month-old LaShai Payne, were found dead in June 1995 in the East Germantown apartment where Morris had been staying with their mother, Damika Payne, then 15, and Payne's mother.
The deaths were ruled homicide by asphyxiation. Morris was repeatedly questioned by detectives, but because several people were present when the babies died, no charges were filed at the time.
In his closing, Greene implied that the girls' grandmother, who had been a drug user and did not like Morris, may have been the killer - a suggestion that Cameron called "nonsense."
By 2002, Morris was living in Roxborough with another girlfriend, Kerry Longacre, who gave birth to his son, Robert Jr.
That baby died at just 3 weeks old. Authorities never connected Morris to the earlier child deaths, and the case was ruled a SIDS death.
In December 2003, the couple's second son, 3-month-old Jhayden, died under similar circumstances.
A newspaper article prompted Damika Payne's relatives to alert detectives to Morris' connection to the 1995 cases, and he was later charged in all four deaths.
During the weeklong trial, Morris testified on his own behalf. At one point, he referred to the birth of one of his children as a "burden," a slipup he clumsily tried to correct.
"That's the real Robert Morris," Cameron said yesterday. "He wanted nothing to do with those babies."