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Hawaii man gets life in prison for murder of strip club owner


SANTA ANA, Calif. >> A Hawaii man was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of the colorful owner of an Orange County strip club in 1987.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno imposed the sentence on Richard Curtis Morris Jr., 59, of Pearl City, concluding the final chapter in a notorious unsolved murder of topless bar owner Jimmy Casino.

A jury in April found Morris guilty of three felony counts including special circumstances murder in the commission of robbery, murder in the commission of rape, and murder for financial gain.

"This guy is probably one of the most violent dangerous career criminals that I’ve come in contact with," said Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Murray, who’s been a homicide prosecutor for 12 years. "He was a career criminal; he was a serial robber, a murderer and a rapist."

An attorney representing Morris did not immediately return a call for comment.

More than 25 years ago, Casino and his 22-year-old girlfriend were returning home from a movie when they were confronted by Morris and another unidentified man — both armed — in his Southern California home.

The girlfriend was taken upstairs and raped by both men, while Casino was handcuffed outside the bedroom. Morris then killed Casino, whose real name was James Stockwell, with a shot in the back of the head from a silencer-equipped handgun; his girlfriend was left alive. She never got a good look at the men, but DNA evidence was collected despite a lack of technology to process it at the time. The case remained unsolved.

Then in 2008, a DNA sample from a recent Hawaii DUI arrest linked Morris to the 1987 incident, and authorities arrested and charged him. He was not charged with the rape because the statute of limitations had expired.

Morris was also charged in 2010 with the killing of Pasadena grocery store owner Vincent Mejia five months after Casino’s death in 1987. Briseno dismissed the charges as being out of jurisdiction, Murray said. Pasadena police had arrested Morris after the killing, but he was not charged at the time.

Casino’s death was the first in a series of shootings linked to the lucrative Mustang Topless Theater, which was referred to as the first topless club in Orange County.

One of the club’s financial backers was blinded after being shot in the head, and a bouncer was killed execution-style in an Irvine parking lot in 1988.

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