Drugs, Murder, A Dirty Lawyer, and a Hitman Convicted: Jose Morales case finally ends—maybe

A federal jury found Troy Allen Lucas guilty yesterday of the 2008 contract murder of Robert Long in South Baltimore, ending a complex case that saw the wrong man convicted and exonerated, a prominent defense lawyer disbarred and imprisoned, and the alleged ringleader sent to prison for life.

"This investigation is the final chapter in an extended federal investigation resulting in several convictions and the exoneration of an innocent man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in state prison," acting U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning said in a press release announcing the conviction.

Lucas faces the possibility of life in prison at his Jan. 3 sentencing.

"There will certainly be an appeal," Harry Trainor, Lucas's lawyer, said. He declined to comment further on the verdict.

Long was shot twice in the head on the morning of March 24, 2008, in an area known as "the lumberyard" adjacent to Traci Atkins Park in Mount Clare. Two weeks before his murder, Long had agreed to testify against his longtime employer, Jose J. Morales, in a state theft case that could have landed Morales in prison for decades. 

Morales was a career drug-dealer, arsonist, thief, and fraudster who had spent little time in prison and jail.

City police pinned the murder on Demetrius Smith, who was then a small-time drug dealer in the neighborhood. Two witnesses claimed they saw Smith shoot Long, and one of them, Mark Bartlett, claimed to have seen Long hours earlier with Smith's drug stash.

It was a lie.

In fact, Bartlett had broken into Morales' shed looking for drugs, and Morales had beaten him badly, according to evidence the feds uncovered. Bartlett has since died of a drug overdose.

The other witness, Michelle McVicker, recanted, according to records made public in the case. It is unclear why she testified falsely in the case.

Smith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, serving four years before new evidence uncovered by federal investigators got him released.

Morales' lawyer, Stanley Needleman, was later convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. Needleman had bailed Morales out jail in 2008 when he was wanted on warrants. Morales then turned up in McAllen, Texas, trying to charter a jet back to Baltimore with six kilos of cocaine, allegedly to repay the bail.

Needleman testified in Morales' 2013 murder trial that Morales told him that he'd arranged for Long's murder. (This reporter was compelled to testify as well). This month, Needleman and Morales both testified against Lucas, who another witness said was the last person to see Long alive.

Lucas was a member of "Dead Man Inc." a criminal gang that served as an adjunct to the Black Guerrilla Family. Lucas wore his DMI allegiance in the form of a noose tattooed around his neck.    

Prosecutors say Morales paid Lucas in cash and cocaine to kill Long. As with the case against Morales, the Lucas case focused on his and Morales' use of cell phones to track Long's whereabouts and plan his murder. Minutes after the murder, according to prosecutors, Lucas called Morales to advise that the "job" was done. 

Lucas was in state prison for years on burglary charges before prosecutors made the murder case against him last summer

City police barely interviewed him or his late brother in their investigation of Long's murder, even after learning they were among the last people to see Long alive.

Federal prosecutors declined to speak about possible loose ends in the case, including the BPD's seeming determination to ignore Morales and the Lucas brothers' role in the case, and Needleman's ability to find a compliant judge to grant Morales bail when he was wanted on warrants.

Schenning thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sandra Wilkinson and Martin Clarke, who prosecuted this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case.

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