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It took a Greene County jury just a few hours to find a Springfield man guilty of second-degree murder for the shooting death of a homeowner who unknowingly rented a room to a drug dealer.
Paul Morales, 31, was charged with second-degree murder, armed criminal action and other weapons charges. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Prosecutors accused Morales of pulling the trigger in the 2021 fatal shooting of 23-year-old Chandler Sweaney.
During the three-day trial this week in Judge Jerry Harmison’s courtroom, Sweaney was described as an innocent victim who unknowingly rented a room to a drug dealer — a mistake that led to his death.
Prosecutors and investigators say on Feb. 1, 2021, Morales and Timothy Johnson went to Sweaney’s residence in the 2800 block of West Chestnut Expressway to rob Rickey Rose, a known drug dealer and Sweaney’s roommate.
During that robbery, Sweaney was shot by Morales. Rose was shot in the leg by Johnson.
While police believe Morales was the person who shot and killed Sweaney, Johnson and Rose were charged and convicted because of Missouri’s felony murder rule that a person is culpable of murder if they commit a felony or attempt to commit a felony and another person is killed as a result.
During closing arguments Wednesday afternoon, prosecutor Philip Fuhrman reminded the jury that five witnesses testified that Morales was the person who shot Sweaney and that Morales lied to investigators about knowing Rose.
Fuhrman showed multiple social media and text messages exchanged between Morales and Rose and between Morales and Johnson on the day of Sweaney’s death that indicate Morales wanted Johnson to go with Morales to Rose’s rented room and that Morales had reached out to Rose, inquiring about buying drugs and a gun.
Fuhrman then played the video of Morales being questioned by investigators in which he denied the conversations.
“He is trying to distance himself,” Fuhrman said. “He knows the messages connect him to this murder.”
Fuhrman said the statements Morales made to investigators “show he had a guilty conscience that day.
“Chandler and his family deserve justice and closure,” Fuhrman said. “The defendant deserves justice, which includes being held accountable.”
Sweaney’s mom, Shelley Larrick, and several family members have attended countless hearings involving Morales’, Johnson’s and Rose’s criminal cases with the hope of seeing justice for Sweaney.
Following a recent hearing at which Morales attempted to fire his attorney and represent himself, Larrick spoke to the Springfield Daily Citizen about her son.
She described Sweaney as being a very bright young man who wanted to help others. He got very good grades in school, played football till he was 15, sang in the chamber choir and played tuba in band.
Because they had family who struggled with substance use, Larrick said she and her son were both active in Al-Anon and Alateen, support groups for family members.
“He would go to Burrell (Behavioral Health) and talk to youth, go to schools, and he would tell other kids about Alateen and what it was,” she had said. “So the hard part is processing that the very thing that we’ve worked so hard to break the cycle and to help other people break that cycle — it’s the same group of people who got him killed, you know. It’s just hard to reconcile that.
“The root of this is still addiction because this roommate that he let in was an addict,” she said. “(Rose) was only there two weeks, but that’s the reason Paul Morales and Tim ever came into that home. Chandler just happened to be there.”