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Pair sentenced for downtown Duluth murder

The location of the crime was about as senseless as the crime itself.

Three men with chemical dependency problems fought in a downtown alley behind the Duluth Y -- the Young Men's Christian Association -- on a July night in 2009 while drinking alcohol. One of the men was knocked to the ground. The other two left him there with his pockets turned inside out. They fled with the victim's identification and his 60 cents.

Albert George Morrison, 34, of Duluth died that night.

Isaac Louis Johnson, 26, and Antonio Sinclair Lewis, 22, were sentenced to prison Tuesday for aiding and abetting each other in the unintentional second-degree murder of Morrison.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Shaun Floerke accepted a plea agreement worked out between the St. Louis County Attorney's Office and public defenders. He sentenced Johnson to 14 years, one month in prison and Lewis to nine years, seven months. The defendants will get credit for the 635 days they already have spent behind bars.

Lewis declined an opportunity to address the court before being sentenced, but public defender Jill Eichenwald spoke to the court and Morrison's family on his behalf. She said her client greatly regretted the loss of life that he contributed to, and that he wanted Morrison's family to know he is remorseful. She said Lewis has a child of his own and he hopes the cycle of chemical abuse will stop.

Morrison's family told the News Tribune he had earned A's and B's while playing football and basketball for Denfeld High School and was on track for college when a brutal beating more than 15 years before his death left him brain damaged.

Morrison was in and out of alcohol rehabilitation centers and it was difficult for him to hold onto a job or a place to live. He had several convictions for assault.

But one of his sisters told the court Tuesday that the victim was a "good guy" at heart and would give her and other members of her family the shirt off his back if they needed it.

Johnson took his opportunity to speak to the court and the victim's family.

"I never wished death on anybody," he said before being sentenced. "I'm sorry about what happened. ... I hope one day you can forgive me. It's up to you guys whether to forgive me or not. I'm trying. That's all I can do."

Between her sobs, the victim's sister screamed at Johnson, "You're sorry! You are still here and my brother is gone! He's not coming back!"

Public defender Susan Ginsburg represented Johnson. The cases were prosecuted by Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Nathaniel Stumme.

Morrison's body was found at 11:42 p.m. on July 15, 2009. Duluth police were led to Johnson and Lewis after reviewing video surveillance from the Holiday Center, about a block away from where Morrison's body was found. The video showed Morrison and the defendants walking away from the west entrance of the center.

Six minutes later the defendants are observed on the video entering the center without Morrison. Lewis first told police that he gave Morrison a drink of vodka around the corner from the Superior Street entrance to the Holiday Center Mall.

Morrison was found face down, still warm but not breathing and without a pulse. He had no defensive wounds and did not possess a weapon.

The case was complicated by the death in 2009 of Duluth police investigator Bob Carter. Carter wrote in a report that Medical Examiner Donald Kundel initially said Morrison's head injury was consistent with a fall and could not have been the cause of his death. According to Carter's report, Kundel also stated that Morrison's lungs appeared to be solid and were very large and heavy, and that a person with lungs that large cannot live.

Kundel opined that Morrison was so intoxicated that his heart failed and that he probably died a natural death brought on by acute alcohol poisoning, Carter said. However, after the autopsy, Carter asked Kundel whether his opinion on the cause of death would change if it was possible that Morrison had been struck and knocked unconscious. Kundel indicated that he would be inclined to rule the case a homicide if that had occurred because it could have contributed to his death, Carter said.