SAN DIEGO — A 42-year-old documented gang member who fatally shot a career Navy man and wounded the victim’s cousin outside a comedy club at Horton Plaza was sentenced Tuesday to 126 years and four months to life in state prison.
Arrow Morris was convicted in March of shooting 43-year-old James Celani in the head, neck and chest and grazing Celani’s cousin in the leg on June 10, 2017.
The two men were walking near the Mad House Comedy Club when they encountered Morris and his brother, who were walking past them in the opposite direction, according to Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund.
Celani’s cousin — referred to as Sean R. in court proceedings — testified he said “What’s up?” to the Morris brothers as they walked past, to which the defendant replied “Don’t (expletive) talk to me,” then began firing.
Morris’ attorney, Stewart Dadmun, alleged at trial that it was actually his client’s brother, Alfred, who committed the shooting and contended that witnesses mixed the brothers up.
Jurors deliberated for nearly two days before finding Morris guilty of murder and attempted murder, in addition to sentence-enhancing allegations of using a firearm and three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in connection with three guns investigators found during a search of his girlfriend’s home.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Caietti said the unprovoked nature of the killing, in addition to Morris’ extensive criminal history dating back to the early 1990s, led her to impose the maximum possible sentence. “For someone trying to rationalize or offer an explanation, I’m not sure there is one,” Caietti said. “It’s truly a random act of violence on two people that never knew him, whose paths just coincidentally crossed that night.”
The surviving victim, who spoke at the sentencing hearing, said he suffers from PTSD as a result of the shooting, which has transformed him into “a recluse” who is anxious in public and untrusting of others. “This monster murdered two people that night, not one. He murdered my cousin and the person I used to be,” he said. “Knowing that this man is in jail for the rest of his life is the only comfort that I will ever gain from this horrific, selfish tragedy.”
Amber Celani said her husband was weeks away from retiring from the Navy at the time of his death. In addition to his wife, Celani left behind a daughter and two stepchildren. His widow said that when he came into her life, her kids were “ecstatic to have a dad” and Celani was “thrilled to have a family of his own.”
Celani’s family members pleaded with Caietti to impose the maximum sentence to safeguard the public from a man who has been in and out of prison for nearly his entire adult life.
Morris’ most recent conviction was a North San Diego County assault with a deadly weapon case from 2009. Caietti said road rage sparked that incident, in which Morris was cut off by another driver and attacked the victim with a hammer, resulting in skull fractures.
“The system couldn’t or wouldn’t protect Jim or Sean from Arrow Morris,” Amber Celani said. “But you can safeguard society from Arrow Morris by making the punishment fit the crime.”
Maund said that on the night of June 10, 2017, following a violent confrontation with his girlfriend, Morris and his brother walked away from the club. Morris, still in a rage over the confrontation with his girlfriend, took his anger out on Celani and his cousin, who were among the first people he came across after leaving the club, the prosecutor said.
Maund said several witnesses pointed to the shooter as a man wearing a red shirt, red hat and white jacket, which Morris can be seen wearing in surveillance footage from Horton Plaza and a 7-Eleven convenience store.
Defense attorney Steward Dadmun contended that witnesses mistook his client for his brother, who Dadmun alleged was the actual shooter. Alfred Morris’ current whereabouts are unclear. “None of these witnesses passes the reasonable doubt test, not a single one of them,” Dadmun told the jury.
According to Dadmun, Morris had “no idea” his sibling was going to begin shooting, while Maund maintained that the altercation with his girlfriend left Morris enraged and prone to violence.
“The defendant was angry, the defendant had a gun and he wasn’t backing down,” the prosecutor said.
Morris was arrested two days after the shooting during a traffic stop in Serra Mesa.