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Thu, Oct. 17

Jury adds aggravating factors in man's child sex conviction

PRESCOTT - A jury on Friday, Aug. 7, found that some of former teacher Mark D. Morgan's convictions in a child sex case were aggravated offenses, making him eligible for up to 87 years in prison.

Morgan, 42, was on Thursday found guilty of sexually related acts with his former live-in girlfriend's two minor daughters.

The crimes first occurred in January 2011 and continued through December 2012.

The girlfriend and her daughters no longer live with or have a relationship with Morgan.

Morgan worked as a student science teacher at Prescott High School during the fall of 2012. He was hired to teach science in spring 2013 and was placed on administrative leave in August 2013 when school officials became aware of the police investigation. Morgan had also been involved in the school's athletic program for four years.

He was fired from the district in October 2013.

Authorities said the charges that led to his arrest were not connected to misconduct at the school or while coaching.

Morgan testified that, as he advanced in the student-teaching program, his girlfriend became suspicious of the time he spent on it and accused him of cheating on her.

He said that the girls had made up the story.

But the jury didn't believe him. Morgan was found guilty of two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child, two counts of luring a minor for sexual exploitation, and one count of misconduct involving weapons.

On Friday he was back in court as the jury considered aggravating factors alleged by the prosecution: whether the offense was committed with the promise of payment, whether it involved emotional harm, if it was committed in the presence of a child, and whether Morgan was at the time a teacher in a position of trust.

Morgan's attorney, Michael Alarid, argued that it was wrong to use those factors as aggravators, because, he said, there was no evidence that Morgan had promised the victims specific treats like pizza or soda in return for any acts. Alarid also asserted that the second and third factors were "inherent" in the charges - "You can't have 'continuous sexual abuse of a child without a child'" - and it's "impossible" not to have emotional harm in a case like this.

Aggravators, Alarid said, are meant to be factors "above and beyond" the actual charges, not something that is part of them.

He also argued that the concept a teacher would be in a position of authority would only apply if Morgan were the victims' teacher.

Deputy County Attorney Kevin Schiff said the victims were "very clear" they had been offered McDonald's food and other snacks.

He said the jury would find nothing in its instructions that said an aggravating factor has to be above and beyond the original charge and that "just saying they're inherent in the charge" didn't negate the aggravation.

Schiff said the fact that Morgan "worked with children" made the situation "different for him" and that he was still in a position of authority.

The jury found the existence of two aggravating factors: emotional harm and offense committed in the presence of a child.

Morgan could be sentenced to up to 87 years in prison, if the judge gives him the maximum sentences and runs them consecutively. He is set for sentencing Sept. 8.

Follow Scott Orr on Twitter @AZNewsguy. Call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2038 or 928-642-7705.

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