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Jurors begin deliberations in NBA players' assault trial

By CLARICE SILBER

Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) Defense attorneys told a jury Monday that the aggravated assault case involving NBA players Marcus and Markieff Morris in the 2015 beating of a former acquaintance is inexcusably and unforgivably tainted.

Prosecutor Thomas Bailey argued the Morris brothers had a motive to attack the victim and said the defendants "acted like high school bullies on a playground."

Jurors began deliberating the case after hearing remaining closing arguments from Bailey and attorneys representing Markieff Morris and the final defendant, Gerald Bowman.

The brothers are accused of helping three other people beat Erik Hood on Jan. 24, 2015, outside a high school basketball game in Phoenix.

Defense attorney James Belanger told jurors the case is tainted by Hood's mentor, who tried to solicit two witnesses to implicate the Morris brothers for a cash payment in return.

"That is outrageous," Belanger said. "And you should be outraged by that, and it affects every aspect of this case."

But Bailey stressed that Hood's mentor did not have any effect on witnesses' testimony, including the one made by the victim.

Those two witnesses testified about the mentor's attempt and their refusal to lie. They both went to break up the fight and placed the Morris brothers near the site but not as part of the altercation.

Belanger, who represents Markieff Morris, said the investigation done by police was "mediocre" and argued that the state's theory of Markieff acting as a lookout was "dead on arrival."

Belanger said neither of those two witnesses said they were threatened, or told not to go down to the fight by the Morris brothers.

Hood has known the Morris brothers since they were promising teenage AAU players, but they had a falling out.

Hood, 36, testified his relationship with the brothers became strained because of a misinterpreted text message he sent their mother. He said there was nothing "improper" happening with him and their mother.

Marcus was traded to the Boston Celtics in July and Markieff plays for the Washington Wizards.

The NBA players missed the start of their respective preseasons because of the two-week trial.

If they are found guilty, the Morris brothers face the possibility of probation or prison time and discipline from the NBA, including a minimum 10-game suspension. Markieff Morris will also be sidelined for several weeks after having a sports hernia surgery.

Defense attorneys have repeatedly said Hood lied to police nine times when he said both twins were involved in the assault. Hood later changed his statement to say Markieff did not beat him but had been in the vicinity.

Belanger said Hood needed to keep one of the Morris brothers involved in the case.

Bailey told the jury to consider the "money aspect" but also the fact that Hood was beaten severely by the defendants and that he wants them to pay.

Two of the other co-defendants pleaded guilty Sept. 13 to the same aggravated assault charges. The Morris brothers and Bowman have pleaded not guilty.

Updated October 2, 2017

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