An ex-con who fatally stabbed a 45-year-old Woodcrest man during a confrontation that erupted when the victim and a friend told the defendant to leave a rental property was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder.
A Riverside jury deliberated two days before finding Joseph William Morales, 40, guilty of killing Michael Miller Jr. on the afternoon of July 23, 2016, as well as four counts of assault with a deadly weapon, several of which were connected to jailhouse attacks.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Samuel Diaz did not immediately schedule a sentencing hearing for Morales, who is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.
Morales was one of several people living in a house on a ranch-style property at 18150 Hibiscus Ave. in Woodcrest. Prosecutors said the convicted felon repeatedly caused trouble at the property, which included a mobile home where others lived. The defendant was known to “carry knives” and had a “willingness to use them” if he became angry, according to the prosecution’s trial brief.
Morales was short-tempered and intimidated other residents, witnesses told sheriff’s investigators.
Following several complaints, Miller, who took care of the property, told Morales to vacate the premises. When the defendant failed to comply, Miller returned to the house, enlisting the help of his friend and another occupant of the parcel, a man identified only as “C.T.”
Miller took a pry bar with him for defense, fearing that he might provoke Morales, whom both the victim and C.T. knew would be armed with a blade, according to the prosecution.
“The confrontation started in the front yard and moved into the house,” according to the trial brief. “(C.T.) and the victim continued to tell the defendant he had to leave. As C.T. turned away, Miller called his name, and C.T. turned … and saw the defendant coming toward him with a knife. Miller struck the defendant with the pry bar. The defendant turned his attention toward the victim and began attacking him with the knife.”
Morales inflicted a mortal stab wound to Miller’s chest, and the victim stumbled into the backyard and collapsed, dying on the spot. C.T. fled for his life and called for help.
Morales jumped on a bicycle and rode away before deputies reached the scene. He was arrested a week later at his sister, Rosa Irene Grimsley’s, home on Heil Drive in Moreno Valley. She pleaded guilty a year later to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to three years probation.
On Sept. 26, 2017, Morales and another inmate pummeled a fellow detainee at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning, forcing correctional deputies to use non-lethal weapons to stop the attack.
On Feb. 13, 2018, an inmate in the middle of a telephone call got into an argument with Morales and three other men in one of the dayrooms at Smith. According to the prosecution, Morales went after the man with a shank, stabbing him so hard that the makeshift knife broke off in the man’s back.
According to court documents, Morales has prior convictions for auto theft, burglary and robbery.
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