July 18, 2009
Brutal beating led to a hard life
By Christa Lawler
Albert George Morrison played football and basketball
at Denfeld High School, earned A’s and B’s, and was
on track for college when he was a victim of a brutal beating that
left him brain-damaged, his family said.
More than 15 years later, another beating in downtown
Duluth left him dead in an alley behind the YMCA, Duluth’s
second homicide of the year.
In the years between was a troubled life.
One former friend from Grant Elementary and Washington
Junior High — Duluth Mayor Don Ness — talked about Morrison
“We played basketball together,” Ness
wrote in an e-mail, “and he’d come over to my house
after school and we’d run pass patterns in our alley that
we would then run during the daily football game, during lunch recess
“In recent years, I’d see him around
and we’d talk,” Ness said. “He would bring up
his intent to go back to school and we’d talk about the city.
It was good to see Al, but it was tough to see the physical impact
that his lifestyle was having on him.
“The kid I knew that had the most fluid
stride, a soft jump shot and an easy, shy smile was now homeless
and struggling to survive.”
When he was about 19, Morrison — known in
his childhood as Al Blacketter — had been beaten and left
in an alley while walking to his mother’s home downtown in
the winter. He was hospitalized for weeks after the attack, close
to death, and suffered brain damage, his aunt Bonita Williams said
Saturday. His uncle, Lewis Williams, said the attack caused Morrison’s
head to swell to the circumference of a steering wheel.
In the following years, Morrison struggled to
focus: His college plans were derailed, he was in and out of alcohol
rehabilitation centers, and it was difficult for him to hold onto
a job or an apartment.
“He was affected mentally,” Williams
said. “This was how he was the rest of his life. He just couldn’t
cope, from the head injuries he had then. He had trouble in life
because of the accident. … He’s had a hard life.”
Morrison wasn’t breathing late Wednesdsay
when he was found in the alley behind the Duluth YMCA on the 300
block of West First St. Police said he probably died of head trauma.
Antonio Lewis and Isaac Johnson are being held
on second-degree murder and aggravated robbery charges in connection
with the death, which police have labeled a homicide/robbery.
Morrison lived with the family of his aunt and
uncle three or four times from late adolescence through high school.
Bonita Williams said Morrison was a good student with plans for
college, and he talked about going into law enforcement with his
cousin, their son, Gaylen Williams, who went on to be a state trooper.
“I saw a massive transformation after [he
was beaten] of the person I knew, who sat at my table,” Lewis
Williams said. “He changed overnight. I would see that empty
Morrison was convicted of second-degree assault
in 1994 and pleaded guilty to fifth degree assault in 2008, fourth-degree
assault of a peace officer in 2008 and minor offenses including
urinating and drinking in public and disorderly conduct.
His sister, Laura Morrison, said he struggled
with alcohol and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his mid-20s.
She said her brother’s most recent plans were to go back to
“My brother was suffering on a daily basis
trying to live a normal life,” Morrison said. “He’s
in a better place now.”
Bonita Williams said Morrison called weekly from
the CHUM Center to let her know he was OK. During a recent phone
call, he apologized for any trouble he had given the family.
Ness remembered Morrison as quiet and friendly
and a talented athlete.
“I wasn’t sure that I wanted to share
this,” Ness said, “but in the end, I though providing
this glimpse into the person I knew might give proper perspective
on what a tragedy this is.”
Morrison was well-known at the CHUM and Damiano
Centers, where many people called him an acquaintance, but few knew
“He had some close friends he kept close,”
said Justin Brooten, who knew Morrison for years. “He never
messed with anybody; he just tried to live his life.”
It was this shyness that has his aunt Bonita Williams
puzzled by the events of Wednesday night.
“He never talked to strangers,” Williams
said. “I don’t know how these two people got him to
go with them. He never spoke to strangers. He never dealt with people
outside of his family.”