published Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Crowbar slaying case goes to grand jury; legless woman claims self-defense

  • photo
    Laura Morgan has been arrested and charged with the 1st Degree Murder of James Masingil and Especially Aggravated Robbery.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A 48-year-old legless woman claims she fended off a crowbar attack before turning the weapon on her 73-year-old friend and killing him.

But Chattanooga police investigator Lucas Fuller told a judge Tuesday that the body of James Masingill was found seated in his chair facing a television with 17 strike wounds.

Some of the injuries were on his arms, which he likely used to defend himself, the officer said. Twelve of the wounds were head lacerations and skull fractures.

And he saw no injuries to Laura Lee Morgan.

Sessions Judge Christie Mahn Sell sent Morgan's murder charge to the grand jury.

Morgan told police she had smoked $80 worth of crack-cocaine before the altercation on Jan. 26 at their 3401 S. Orchard Knob Ave. home. The man had purchased scratch-off lottery tickets and returned to his home with $40 in winnings.

Morgan asked Masingill for half of the money.

The pair argued about Morgan's crack use. That was when, she told police, he rushed her with a crowbar. But she caught the weapon and then began beating him with it.

Morgan took $200 from Masingill's wallet and called her drug dealer to bring her more crack. After she smoked the drug she called 911 and told police she had beaten Masingill.

During later interviews that night Morgan said she and Masingill smoked the drug together and had been friends for 15 years.

The Hamilton County medical examiner's report showed extensive bruising and lacerations on both of Massingill's arms, especially on his right hand.

A detailed sketch in the report shows cuts on Masingill's face near his left eye socket, along his nose and forehead and a 6-inch laceration along the left side of his head, among other injuries.

Susan Price, a registered tax return preparer at Jones Bookkeeping & Tax Service, works next door to where Masingill lived.

There were never noises of arguing from the modest stucco home, she said. Tattered crime scene tape was still wrapped around part of the house Monday.

She said Masingill's health appeared to be deteriorating, which made her doubt Morgan's self-defense story.

"He was frail. He walked into his house a little slower and had to hold on to the car," she said.

Price said a ramp to his home was installed by a nonprofit a couple of weeks before his death after Morgan began staying there more often.

"There's just no way she had to beat him like that to get his money," Price said.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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