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McDonald pleads guilty, gets 25-31 years

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Morgan Lynn McDonald

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By William F. West
The Daily Advance

Thursday, May 24, 2018

ELIZABETH CITY — A 20-year-old Camden County woman was sentenced to 25 to 31 years in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the 2016 stabbing death of a Camden teenager in Elizabeth City.

Morgan Lynn McDonald was scheduled to go on trial in Pasquotank Superior Court this week for first-degree murder in the March 13, 2016, death of 18-year-old Summer Faith Waaga.

A jury was chosen on Monday and sent home with instructions to be ready for the start of a trial on Tuesday. The case ended, however, after McDonald and her defense attorney, Chrissy Simmons of Dare County, reached a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office Monday evening.

In sentencing McDonald to 25 to 31 years, Superior Court Judge Cy Grant credited her with time served. Court records show McDonald served 801 days prior to her plea agreement on Monday.

District Attorney Andrew Womble said in an interview Tuesday that Judge Grant had talked to both prosecutors and the defense about the prospect of a plea agreement in the case.

Womble said his office’s only offer to McDonald was for her to plead guilty to second-degree murder with aggravating factors. He said McDonald and defense attorney Simmons conferred and agreed.

“The deal was not reached until late yesterday evening after the close of court,” Womble said

Although a conviction on charge of first-degree murder carries a life sentence in North Carolina, Womble noted the U.S. Supreme Court has said it’s possibly unconstitutional for a person under age 18 convicted of first-degree murder to receive a life sentence.

Because McDonald was 17 at the time she killed Waaga, Grant would have had to conduct a separate sentencing hearing if she had been convicted of first-degree murder.

“And he already intimated where he would fall with that — and so we were trying to get that number,” Womble said, referring to the 25- to 31-year sentence. “Life without parole was probably not going to be the ultimate outcome for a 17-year-old.”

Womble said although he's always more comfortable when a jury hears a case and hands down a verdict, he’s comfortable with the outcome of McDonald’s case. He cited McDonald's age at the time of Waaga’s murder, and noted his office tries to treat younger defendants differently than older ones.

Womble also believes Waaga’s family is comfortable with the outcome as well.

“I think they found some measure of justice,” he said.

McDonald, who addressed both Grant and Waaga’s family in court Tuesday morning, said through tears that she will never be able to explain how sorry she is for causing Waaga’s death.

“It’s not fair at all — and I’m so sorry,” McDonald said.

Moments earlier, Waaga’s mother, Christine Ackermann, also in tears, said her daughter had been a beautiful person.

"We miss Summer every day," she said.

She then turned to McDonald’s family in the courtroom and said she did not blame them for what McDonald had done to her daughter.

"I don't hold them responsible or have any hate or hurt against your family," she said.

Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Pellini provided the court a narrative of what the state’s case would have been had there been a trial.

According to Pellini, McDonald and Waaga apparently had dated some of the same men, one of whom was Wyatt Dail who lived on Butlers Lane. At some point, McDonald became possessive of Dail, and began harassing Waaga about dating him, Pellini said.

Pellini said after Waaga posted a selfie of herself, Dail and a friend on social media, McDonald had a friend drive her to the house where Dail lived on Butlers Lane. McDonald carried a pocket knife with a three-inch blade, Pellini said.

According to the prosecutor, Waaga answered the door after McDonald knocked. When she saw it was McDonald, Waaga went into another room. McDonald then confronted Dail, who was in bed. After McDonald made insulting remarks about Waaga to Dail, Waaga, who was still in the other room, demanded McDonald stop talking about her. McDonald then went into the room where Waaga was.

Pellini said two witnesses told police they saw McDonald jump on Waaga before they discovered she was bleeding.

The initial report to Elizabeth City police was that someone at the house on Butlers Lane had been assaulted with a deadly weapon, the prosecutor said.

When the first police officer arrived, he saw a person performing CPR on Waaga, Pellini said. The officer said Waaga was lying on the ground outside the house and appeared to have suffered some type of injury to her throat.

According to Pellini, police spoke to a 16-year-old who claimed to be McDonald’s best friend. The friend had driven McDonald to the house and said that McDonald had stabbed Waaga.

Pellini said McDonald had walked away from the house, waved down a passing motorist and asked to use their phone. McDonald then called her father and told him she wanted to say goodbye because she was going to prison, Pellini said.

About that time, city police Chief Eddie Buffaloe spotted a young woman walking nearby. After Buffaloe tried to get the woman’s name, she told him, “I stabbed the (expletive)," Pellini said.

Believing he had the suspect, Buffaloe handcuffed McDonald and put her in a police car, Pellini said. However, as he and another officer were conferring, McDonald managed to get free of the handcuffs and tried to escape, Pellini said.

After Buffaloe and the officer apprehended her, McDonald told them, “I hope that (expletive) dies," Pellini said. Besides confessing to stabbing Waaga, McDonald told Buffaloe she hoped Waaga “drowns in her own blood."

Pellini said prosecutors were also prepared to show McDonald had told others earlier in March 2016 that she planned to murder someone. At the time she stabbed Waaga to death, McDonald was on probation in another criminal matter, Pellini said.

In her remarks to Grant prior to sentencing, Simmons said McDonald is a daughter of parents who are well respected in the local community. However, McDonald had shown signs of mental health illness as early as the second grade, and by age 9 was diagnosed with a major depression disorder, Simmons said.

By the time she turned 14, McDonald was receiving therapy for the disorder, Simmons said. McDonald’s parents had her involuntarily committed for a time over concerns she might harm herself, Simmons said.

According to Simmons, by the time McDonald turned 17, her parents were seeking help from the juvenile justice system.

In fact the weekend Waaga was killed, McDonald’s parents reached out to the sheriff for help trying to find their daughter, Simmons said.

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