PHOENIX (AP) — NBA training camps began this week for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, but two starters from the teams were noticeably absent. Twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris were in a Phoenix courtroom standing trial on felony assault charges stemming from a 2015 beating.
The NBA players have been on trial for the past two weeks on charges that they joined three other people in the beating of a former acquaintance outside a high school basketball game in 2015 when they played for the Phoenix Suns.
Marcus Morris is accused of kicking the victim in the head while prosecutors say Markieff was an accomplice in the attack.
Closing arguments got underway Thursday as prosecutors urged jurors to convict the NBA players of aggravated assault charges for their role in the beating. Prosecutor Daniel Fisher said the brothers “had an axe to grind” with the victim and said they were intent on sending him a message.
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But an attorney defending Marcus Morris against the charges argued multiple witnesses’ testimony showed the twin brothers could not have been involved in the incident.
Jurors will return to the courtroom Monday to hear remaining closings arguments from attorneys representing Markieff Morris and the final defendant, Gerald Bowman.
The victim, Erik Hood, testified last week he knew the brothers since their AAU days when he was helping to connect agents with basketball players in hopes of getting a cut of a lucrative NBA contract.
Hood said their relationship soured in 2011 because of a misinterpreted text message he sent their mother. He said there was nothing “improper” happening with him and their mother.
Defense lawyer Timothy Eckstein reminded jurors that Hood told authorities nine times that both twins were involved in the assault before changing his statement to say Markieff did not beat him but had been in the vicinity.
The defense attorney said Hood repeatedly lied during the investigation, and that Hood knew he had to “double down on Marcus” beating him because the case wouldn’t be worth anything without one of the brothers involved.
Marcus was traded to the Boston Celtics in July as part of a roster overhaul that added Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in an attempt to make them more competitive with the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Division. Markieff plays for the Washington Wizards.
If they are found guilty, the Morris brothers face the possibility of probation or prison time and discipline from the NBA, including a minimum 10-game suspension. Markieff Morris will also be sidelined for several weeks after having a sports hernia surgery.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said the team and officials have been in contact with Marcus throughout the trial. The team dispatched an assistant general manager to Phoenix to attend the proceedings.
“We’re just waiting like everybody else to see what happens there,” Ainge said. “But we feel good about what will happen. At the same time we understand what possibilities exist.”
Two of the other co-defendants pleaded guilty Sept. 13 to the same charges. The Morris brothers and Bowman have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutor Daniel Fisher described Markieff as an accomplice in the assault, noting he moved his car between the time of the start of the high school game and the end closer to where the assault later happened. Fisher said he acted as a lookout and fled in what he described as the getaway car.
The Morris brothers were drafted back-to-back in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft.