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Gang member gets 126 years to life in prison for killing Navy man

Person under arrest in handcuffs. (Pixabay/Released)

A 42-year-old gang member whose arrest record goes back nearly 30 years will spend the rest of his life in prison for fatally shooting a Navy man and wounding the victim’s cousin in an unprovoked attack near Horton Plaza.

A San Diego Superior Court judge on Tuesday ordered Arrow Morris to a prison term totaling 126 years and four months to life for the 2017 murder of Lt. Cmdr James Celani Jr., attempted murder of Celani’s cousin and several gun allegations.

The panel found Morris guilty after a trial that began in February.

Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund said Morris, his brother and two women had been at a comedy club, then Morris got angry with his girlfriend and took it out on the two strangers who happened to pass by.

Morris’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Stewart Dadmun, argued that San Diego police arrested the wrong brother for the shooting.

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The sentencing hearing was punctuated by quiet tears and uncontrolled sobbing as Celani’s cousin and other family members recounted the terror of that shooting and its long-lasting effects.

The cousin, who had asked that only his first name, Sean, be published, told Judge Carolyn Caietti, he had come to San Diego before the shooting to ask Celani, 43, to be best man at his wedding.

On the night of July 10, 2017, the two men ran through a largely deserted Horton Plaza shopping mall downtown, then walked past the comedy club where Arrow Morris and his brother were standing.

“I greeted these two strangers with a respectful, ‘What’s up, brother?’ only to be met with unprovoked hostility, anger, rage, hatred and violence,” Sean said.

Sean said Morris started shooting, then he saw Celani lying on the ground “bleeding, groaning and gasping.” The cousin performed CPR on Celani until he was worn out and a security guard took over.

Celani was struck in his head, neck and chest.

His cousin suffered a grazing bullet wound on one leg.

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Celani’s wife, Amber Celani, had about an hour to get to the hospital before Celani died.

Through non-stop sobs, she described how her husband had risen through Navy ranks and was a dedicated father to her two small children and the daughter they had together. After an “idyllic” tour of duty in Japan, they relocated to San Diego where he eventually was assigned to a SEAL team and helped develop a drone program.

“When Jim was murdered, he was eight weeks away from retiring from the military,” after 20 years, his wife said. He had bought new suits for civilian life — and never knew the SEALs were planning to offer him a civilian job.

Sean described his life now as filled with fear of strangers and sudden noises. Both he and Amber Celani asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Morris.

“The system couldn’t or wouldn’t protect Jim and Sean from Arrow Morris,” Amber Celani said.

The judge noted that Morris was arrested several times as a juvenile, and in 1998 had his first adult arrest. Several more followed, usually for drug and gun crimes, until a 2009 conviction for attacking a driver with a hammer over a road-rage incident in North County. Morris got out of prison in 2015.

Caietti said that there were no factors in Morris’ favor to offset the strictest penalty available under the law.

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© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.