A Palm Desert pot dealer killed a woman for cash she planned to buy marijuana with, a prosecutor told jurors today, but a defense attorney argued that his client was not a killer, even if he was a "scumbag."
Attorney Greg Johnson told jurors that authorities have no hard evidence tying his client, 24-year-old Sean Michael Mihajson, to the Oct. 12, 2007, slaying of Shalonda Morris.
Mihajson is charged with murder and the special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and murder in commission of a robbery, which made him eligible for the death penalty. Prosecutors in the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, however, decided in November 2008 against seeking his execution.
If convicted of first-degree murder and at least one special circumstance allegation, Mihajson faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to the District Attorney's Office.
The defendant's twin sister, Vanesa Michelle Mihajson, was convicted in October 2011 of being an accessory to a felony and was sentenced to three years probation and 120 hours of community service.
Morris, 36, who also went by "Shay," was last seen leaving her home in the 61000 block of Wilson Road in North Palm Springs to meet Mihajson at his Palm Desert condominium on the day of the killing.
Morris and an unnamed man, both cancer patients, had recommendations from doctors, enabling them to buy medical marijuana, and they planned to pool their money to buy a pound of pot, Deputy District Attorney Pete Nolan said.
"Unbeknownst to Shalonda Morris, Sean Mihajson had a plan as well. His plan was to rip her off," Nolan told jurors in his opening statement.
But Morris' would-be partner backed out of the deal to buy a pound of medical marijuana, and she withdrew thousands of dollars from the bank
Mihajson asked his sister to borrow her van, then told her he didn't want her at the condominium and suggested she go to a mall. When she was at the mall, he asked her to buy plastic sheeting and duct tape at a Lowe's. A friend drove her there, then delivered the items to the condo.
Mihajson's girlfriend, who lived with him and his sister, was also dropped off at the mall, prosecutors said.
That same afternoon, Morris made a telephone call to her domestic partner to say she was with Mihajson but planned to pick up their daughter at school and be home later.
"That's the last she hears from her," Nolan said. "There is no body. We don't know how she died, but five years later, she's still missing. How do we know she's dead? We've got to look at the actions after that."
At the mall, Vanesa Mihajson allegedly told a friend her brother planned to "rip off" Morris and "Shay's gone."
Sean Mijason later picked up his sister and girlfriend and took them to a motel, where in "the early morning hours of Oct. 13 they sit on the bed and counted about $10,000 in cash," Nolan said.
They went from hotel to hotel, and the women were told not to leave the room. Eventually, the trio drove to Las Vegas, staying in hotels and later renting a place for $5,000.
About two weeks later, they went back to the Palm Desert condo "in the middle of the night, and Sean told (his girlfriend) and Vanesa, 'You have 15 minutes, get anything you can and get out,"' Nolan said.
While there, the women noticed that Sean and his girlfriend's bedroom had new carpet, new bedding and new curtains, Nolan said.
"At this point, no one's heard, no one's seen Shalonda Morris," he said.
Under questioning by police, Mihajson initially denied knowing Morris. He later admitted that she had been to his house, and he'd sold her pot. When he and his sister were alone, Sean Mihajson told her to say nothing to the police and that she should have gone alone to buy the plastic sheeting and duct tape. He also said "she fit in that thing full length," Nolan said.
"What we know is Sean Mihajson is responsible ... we know he planned this out way before it happened, we know something happened in that (bed)room," Nolan said. "He killed Shalonda Morris for her money while lying in wait, that's what the evidence will show," he said. Johnson said that, at one point, he believed his client played a role in Morris' disappearance.
"But I'm not going to sugarcoat it. Back in 2007, Sean Mihajson was a scumbag. He was a dope dealer, he was a drug dealer ... and, I'm not going to sugarcoat this either. He was kind of stupid. When you put him with a bunch of cops, he'd tend to implicate himself even though he was innocent," Johnson told jurors in his opening statement.
He said the Mihajsons did little beside smoke pot.
"But that's who he was. But he was not a killer," Johnson said.
Morris was also a "scumbag" and a drug dealer who'd done prison time. She was also known to carry a weapon, and Mihajson was scared of her, the defense attorney said.
Police concluded Morris was killed in a bedroom in Mihajson's home, "but you're not going to hear anything about forensic evidence," Johnson said.
"Nothing exists," he said.
Statements from Vanesa Mihajson's friend, which Johnson said the prosecution would use "to hang my client," were not credible. He also doubted statements by Mihajson's girlfriend.
"So Sean is left holding the bag, literally, and he sold it, and he'll tell you who he sold it to. That's where the money came from that was laid out on the (motel) bed," Johnson said.
The plastic sheeting, he said, was used to wrap up Mihajson's 4-foot pot plant, which he took to Las Vegas. They stayed in the motels to party, he said, because it was part of their lifestyle.
"When you look at all of the evidence and the fact there was no forensic evidence ... I think you'll see he was doing what he did naturally being a drug dealer, and Shalonda was also doing what she did. And if she was murdered, it was by somebody else and not my client," he said.