PHOENIX (AP) — NBA players Marcus and Markieff Morris went on trial Monday on felony assault charges stemming from a 2015 beating that prosecutors labeled as an “orchestrated attack” and defense lawyers dismissed as a ploy to get money out of the athletes.
Opening statements began with prosecutors saying the two NBA stars and three other men each had a role in a beating that left a former acquaintance with a broken nose and other injuries.
Prosecutor Dan Fisher said it was a coordinated mission and “orchestrated attack” after the victim sent text messages to the Morris twins’ mother that angered them.
Defense lawyers insisted the twins did not participate in the attack and questioned the reliability and financial motives of the man who was beaten. The lawyer for Marcus Morris, Timothy Eckstein, said witness statements that form the basis of the case are “entirely inconsistent and incompatible with the truth.”
The twin brothers face the possibility of prison time and discipline from the NBA, including a minimum 10-game suspension, if they are found guilty.
The two-week trial also threatens to disrupt the start of their 2017 NBA season with training camp set to begin for both players on Sept. 26.
The Boston Celtics acquired Marcus Morris from Detroit in the offseason as part of an overhaul of their roster, while Markieff was a solid contributor for the Washington Wizards last year.
The Morris brothers are accused of helping three other people beat 36-year-old Erik Hood, who has known the twins since they were promising teenage AAU players.
In youth basketball parlance, Hood was known as a “runner” — someone who connects promising young athletes with representatives and agents in hopes of getting a cut of a lucrative NBA contract, Eckstein said.
He said Hood viewed the Morris twins as his “lottery ticket” after they went onto a successful career at the University of Kansas. They had a falling out while the Morris brothers were at Kansas, and they were later drafted into the NBA.
Defense lawyers don’t dispute that the beating took place, but they say the Morris brothers weren’t involved and believe Hood was trying to pin blame on them for financial gain.
Two of the other co-defendants pleaded guilty Wednesday to the same charges. That leaves the Morris brothers and one other defendant standing trial this week. The third defendant is Gerald Bowman, a former University of Southern California football player.
Police say Hood was leaving a high school basketball game when he was approached by a friend of the Morris brothers. Hood told Phoenix police the man was speaking to him when he was punched in the back of the head.
Hood ran to his car but fell down, before the men punched and kicked him repeatedly, authorities say. All five left in a Rolls Royce Phantom as bystanders began to appear.
Hood provided an account of the attack as the first prosecution witness Monday, calling it “the most terrifying moment in my life.”
He said Marcus Morris kicked him “relentlessly” and Bowman “just jumped straight up and landed on me with two feet.” Hood previously told police he was attacked by Markieff Morris, but recalled on the stand Monday that he later clarified his statement and said he could not be sure whether Markieff participated in the beating.
Hood told police he suffered a fractured nose, abrasions and a large bump on his head.
At the time of the attack, the 6-foot-9 Morris twins were both playing for the Phoenix Suns.
[photo: Erik Hood stands between the Morris brothers]