Trial begins in Check ’n Go murder
By Jim Newton firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2013 12:32PM
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:23AM
Two portraits of Montago Suggs were offered to a jury Tuesday morning.
One painted him as the cold-blooded executioner of a young woman from Round Lake Park, the other as a victim of a multi-day interrogation who confessed to make it stop.
Over the next several days, jurors will hear testimony to back up the propositions made by prosecutor Eric Kalata and Public Defender Keith Grant.
In opening arguments Sept. 24, Kalata said Suggs, 29, of Kenosha, broke and desperate to get his car out of an impound lot, walked into the former Waukegan Check ’n Go, forced 22-year-old clerk Melinda “Mindy” Morrell to lie down on the floor and shot her in the back of the head, killing her instantly during a robbery that netted about $2,000.
May 21, 2007, was to have been a normal work day for Morrell, Kalata said. “Unfortunately for Mindy, the defendant’s actions would make it the last day of her life.”
Kalata said that during the morning of that day, Suggs was pulled over in Winthrop Harbor and arrested for driving on a suspended license. Suggs had no money, and his vehicle, a Lincoln Town Car that Kalata described as his prized possession, was towed and impounded.
Winthrop Harbor Police then received a call that Suggs was “panhandling” at a gas station across from the police station, and an officer asked him if he needed a ride somewhere and Suggs accepted a ride to Waukegan, Kalata said.
Later that afternoon, according to Kalata, Suggs entered the Check ’n Go, where he had previously taken out payday loans, and this time, wearing gloves and holding a gun, ushered Morrell to the back of the store. Morrell complied with his directives, as employees are taught to do in such situations, Kalata said, and showed him where the cash was kept. He then allegedly told her to lie down on the floor, shot her in the back of the head and took the store’s video surveillance tape along with the cash.
“To Monago Suggs, Mindy’s life was worth the money,” Kalata said.
Kalata said Suggs almost got away with the murder, but “he made one critical mistake. He got greedy.”
Kalata said five days later, Suggs attempted to rob the Ma & Pa’s Corner Store on Green Bay Road in Beach Park using the same formula, including making the clerk lie on the floor, but the gun didn’t fire when he pulled the trigger.
Kalata said Suggs fled and dropped his .38-caliber handgun, which was later determined by forensic experts to have been the gun that fired the slug that killed Morrell.
Grant countered that prosecutors are attempting to prove the first-degree murder case based on evidence from other crimes, including the Ma & Pa’s robbery, and had no real evidence that Suggs killed Morrell other than a confession given after four days of exhaustive interrogation.
Grant told jurors that Suggs is innocent “now” according to the legal presumption of innocence, and that based on what he said would be the state’s inability to meet the burden of proof, would be found innocent at the end of the trial by the jury.
Forensics only show that “a gun found on the ground” was connected to the Check ’n Go shooting, Grant said.
Grant said Suggs’ confession came after an interrogation by a detective with the Lake County Major Crime Task Force that began May 26, 2007, and didn’t end until after 5 p.m. May 30.
Suggs was the focus of “a sustained interrogation process that would stretch out day after day after day,” Grant said. “The only thing being sought was Montago’s confession, and that was the only thing that would end the interrogation.”
Finally, Grant said,Suggs “capitulated,” telling the detective what “he wants to hear.”
None of the 20 usable fingerprints found at the former Waukegan Check ’n Go store where clerk Morrell of Round Lake Park was killed match either the victim or the man accused of shooting her, jurors were told as testimony got underway in the trial.
Barry Adams, an analyst with the Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Lab in Vernon Hills, testified Tuesday afternoon that samples of 32 fingerprints taken from the door of the Check ’n Go, a cubicle in the store, a VCR in the store and Morrell’s body were sent to the crime lab.
From that pool of evidence, and two additional prints found at the lab on the VCR and power cord that had been in the store, 20 usable prints were identified.
Adams said that none of the prints matched Morrell or Suggs.
Members of the jury also were shown some of the items entered into evidence in the trial, including a picture of Morrell lying dead on her stomach with a shell casing next to her body, and another photo of the round that killed her next to a VCR where a surveillance tape of the event was stolen by Suggs, according to prosecutors.
Jurors also were shown the blood-stained shirt that was taken from Morrel during her autopsy.
Prosecutors have said the round and shell casing were determined by forensic experts to have come from the gun that Suggs allegedly had when he attempted a similar robbery five days later in Beach Park.
Suggs is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and attempted robbery in the jury trial.
Testimony in the trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday.