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‘You chose to leave him to die’: 17-year-old who stabbed man to death in park brawl learns her fate

Marissa Grace Smith and Michael Morris (WOIO screenshot)

Marissa Grace Smith (WOIO screenshot) and Michael Morris (GoFundMe)

A 17-year-old girl in Ohio may spend the rest of her days behind bars for fatally stabbing a 22-year-old man to death last year at a Louisville park.

Stark County Common Pleas Judge Natalie Haupt on Monday ordered Marissa Grace Smith to serve a sentence of life in prison with the possibility for parole in 15 years for the slaying of Michael Devin Morris Jr., court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

A jury earlier this month found Smith guilty on one count of felony murder and one count of felonious assault in Morris’ death, Stark County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle L. Stone announced.

According to the Louisville Police Department, an officer was patrolling the area near Wildwood Park at approximately 4 p.m. on Sept. 13, 2022, when an individual flagged him down and reported that there had been a stabbing in the park. The officer called in the alleged attack and, along with several other officers and medics from the Louisville Fire Department, responded to the area where the stabbing allegedly occurred.

Upon arriving at the scene, first responders found an adult male, later identified as Morris, who appeared to be suffering from a stab wound to the chest and attempted to perform life-saving procedures before transporting him to Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital. Unfortunately, Morris was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the facility.

“The stabbing involved a knife and resulted from an altercation between those involved,” police wrote following Smith’s arrest. “The altercation involved multiple juveniles and reportedly stems from previous unresolved conflicts between some of those involved.”

A 15-year-old male was also arrested over the fatal fight. The now 16-year-old was charged as a juvenile and is awaiting his trial, which is scheduled to begin in June 2023. He has pleaded not guilty to juvenile counts of murder, felonious assault, aggravated criminal trespass, and carrying a concealed weapon.

According to a report from The Repository, witnesses testified during Smith’s trial that a group of male and female teenagers had met each other in the park and planned to fight.

During the altercation, Smith took the knife out of the waistband of the co-defendant and began moving towards Morris while screaming at him, several witnesses reportedly testified. Smith and several of her friends who testified reportedly told the jury that Morris then “pulled” Smith towards him and essentially “walked into” the blade.

Smith did not speak on her own behalf during Monday’s sentencing hearing.

One of Morris’ family members, Tara Burns, read a victim impact statement aimed directly at Morris, who was sitting just a few feet away from the podium.

“You had a phone and you stabbed him in the chest,” Burns said. “You could have called [police] anonymously and told them that someone was down but you chose to leave him to die. That’s unforgivable to me.”

Judge Haupt also spoke to the court.

“I’m sure there are a lot of regrets that Ms. Smith has,” Judge Haupt said prior to handing down the sentence. “But those mistakes cost Michael Morris his life and this court is required to impose a sentence of 15 years to life.”

The sentence was the mandatory minimum required under state law.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.