Prof wrongly ID’d as Wesleyan suspect files suit

Wesleyan Shooting Lawsuit
Stephen L. Morgan at his home in Ithaca, N.Y. Morgan, an Ivy League professor who shares a name with an accused killer, is suing Wesleyan University.Sydney Van Morgan / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Ivy League professor who shares a name with a man accused of killing a Wesleyan University student has sued the school, saying it circulated his photo instead of the suspect's and dragged its feet to correct the error.

Stephen L. Morgan's old Massachusetts driver license picture appeared on news Web sites worldwide during the manhunt for Stephen P. Morgan, who is charged with gunning down 21-year-old Johanna Justin-Jinich in a bookstore near campus on May 6.

Stephen L. Morgan, 38, is a Cornell University sociology professor and 1993 Rhodes Scholar with degrees from Harvard and Oxford. He runs Cornell's Center for the Study of Inequality, which fosters research on various social and economic issues.

The suspect, Stephen P. Morgan, is a 29-year-old former classmate of Justin-Jinich's at New York University who was described by his father as a journal-scribbling loner known to make anti-Semitic comments. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, intimidation based on bigotry or bias and carrying a pistol without a permit.

Stephen L. Morgan said Wesleyan has not apologized for mistakenly distributing his picture and has rebuffed his requests to publicly state he was never a suspect. His lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Middletown Superior Court, claims "humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress ... and injury to his career." It seeks unspecified monetary damages for what it calls Wesleyan's recklessness and negligence.

"All they've said is they regret this happened to me, which sounded to me like something written by a lawyer," the professor told The Associated Press.

Wesleyan spokesman David Pesci declined to comment, saying the university does not discuss open litigation.

Wesleyan student shot
Justin-Jinich, of Timnath, Colo., was killed while working at a bookstore cafe. A man wearing a wig entered the store, opened fire on her and fled.

Police say they narrowed in on Stephen P. Morgan after finding his car parked nearby, a box of ammunition and an empty handgun holster. They said they also found a journal filled with hateful comments about Justin-Jinich, Jews and other students at Wesleyan, an elite liberal arts university of about 3,000.

A surveillance camera caught an image of the suspected assailant, a dark-haired man in glasses carrying a gun. Wesleyan distributed that picture along with the early-1990s driver license photo of the professor, an image that still could be found this week on some Web sites with stories about the killing.

The suspect turned himself in 35 hours after the shooting, but only after the professor's photo — obtained from Massachusetts authorities — had been circulated to the media, students, employees and others on Wesleyan's campus security mailing list.

'Very shocking'
The professor has no connection with Wesleyan, but both he and the suspect had lived in Massachusetts, likely prompting the confusion, officials said at the time.

"I said to my wife when it happened, 'We have the same name, but thank God I don't look like him,'" the professor said. "I knew the whole thing was going on because it was such a big story, but to see myself inserted directly into it was very shocking."

His lawsuit alleges Wesleyan waited almost three hours to remove his photo from its Web site after learning from Middletown police that it was the wrong Stephen Morgan; and that Wesleyan ignored scores of students and others who told the university during the manhunt that it appeared the pictures were of two different men.

Stephen L. Morgan's lawsuit names only Wesleyan University as a defendant, not any of the media organizations who distributed the picture.

Stephen P. Morgan, who grew up in Marblehead, Mass., is being held without bail. His next court appearance is Dec. 15.