As potential jurors enter Courtroom 11D at the Regional Justice Center for a robbery trial on Monday, they will not see the teardrop tattooed just below defendant Bayzle Morgan’s right eye.
They will not see the swastika within a clover under the 24-year-old’s left eye. Nor will they see the words “Most Wanted” across his forehead.
The “Baby Nazi” tattoo on his neck will be hidden, as will the Iron Cross on the back of his bald head, along with two more white supremacist tattoos where his eyebrows should be.
In an unusual move, District Judge Richard Scotti has ordered the concealing of Morgan’s tattoos from the neck up.
“The goal is to make sure we can get a jury to at least give him a fair trial,” defense attorney Dan Bunin said.
A month ago, a different group of possible jurors was summoned to decide on the robbery case against Morgan. But one by one, they saw his tattoos and his bald head and said they could not be fair and impartial.
“If it’s a certain kind of tattoo, in a certain spot, it signifies something more,” one person said before being dismissed from the jury panel. “And that automatically to me means somebody at one time did something inappropriate, or did something that was not acceptable to society, and therefore has been outcast into a particular group of people, whether they’re a gang or a mob.”
Scotti then asked, “How is this man supposed to get a fair trial if everybody comes in here and thinks they might be influenced by the tattoos?”
Morgan is accused of stealing a man’s motorcycle at gunpoint in the northwest valley in May 2013. He’s also facing the death penalty in a separate case, charged in the slaying of 75-year-old Jean Main just days before the robbery.
One potential juror reported feeling “nervous” and “shaky” last month after seeing Morgan’s teardrop tattoo, while another told the judge that Morgan’s tattoos “could be indicative of previous criminal acts.” Others said the tattoos gave them a “negative feeling” or a preconceived notion about Morgan’s guilt.
By law, jurors are supposed to consider only the facts of the case, not a defendant’s appearance.
The judge delayed Morgan’s trial while lawyers on both sides considered what to do. An initial proposal involved covering the teardrop tattoo with a bandage.
Prosecutors ultimately asked that all of his tattoos be hidden from the next jury panel.
“We certainly don’t want to start the process and realize that jurors are seeing the other ones,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Giancarlo Pesci said.
In the judge’s courtroom Friday, prison guards, court marshals and prosecutors watched as a cosmetologist spent roughly two hours applying makeup to cover Morgan’s tattoos as he sat at the defense table, shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit. With a test of the inmate makeover complete, none of the tattoos could be seen.
The judge walked in. “It looks good,” he said.
A few minutes later, the cosmetologist scrubbed away the makeup, and the tattoos reappeared before he was hauled back to jail for the weekend. Martina Geinzer, assistant general counsel for the Metropolitan Police Department, asked that the makeup be removed before Morgan was returned to the Clark County Detention Center, where he will be held during the trial.
He should appear in court Monday, for the first day of a trial that’s expected to last more than a week, as he did six years ago: stone blue eyes, blond hair shaved clean off, and plain skin.
Each morning of the trial, the cosmetologist will conduct Morgan’s makeover. When jurors see him, he’ll be uncuffed and wearing street clothes.
At age 18 in 2010, Morgan was ordered to serve 19 to 48 months behind bars on a charge of possession of a stolen vehicle. In a mugshot from High Desert State Prison at the time, there are no visible tattoos on his face.
His capital murder trial is scheduled for next month, when another judge may have to decide whether the tattoos should be covered again.
In that case, prosecutors said Morgan broke into the victim’s home in the 8000 block of Green Pasture Avenue, pistol-whipped her over the head so hard that the trigger guard broke into pieces, and then shot her in the back of the head. Her boyfriend found her face-down in a first-floor bathroom.
A getaway driver, identified as Keith Smith, now 49, left when he heard gunshots but returned and saw Morgan with a suitcase of items from the victim’s house.
Police recovered a laptop, a Kindle Fire, a purse with $800 and keys to a Cadillac Escalade at Morgan’s residence when he was arrested.
Dozens of drops of blood also tied Morgan to the scene of the killing, according to court records. He also faces charges of burglary, robbery and kidnapping in that case.
After his arrest in the murder case, he was sent back to prison for a firearm conviction.
Recently, Morgan created a profile on writeaprisoner.com, a pen-pal website for prisoners. He called himself a “man that’s made some mistakes in life,” yet “worthy of a meaningful friendship.”
He added, “My heart is heavy with pain of being alone and I am starved for a woman who can see past labels to the man I truly am.”
Contact David Ferrara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039. Find @randompoker on Twitter.