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Teen charged in store clerk's murder closer to trial

Police: Sergio Morgan-Wideman killed St. Augustine clerk in cold blood

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A judge scheduled a new court date for a teenager charged with killing a St. Augustine store clerk in May.

Sergio Morgan-Wideman, 16, will be back in court on Dec. 2, when a trial date will be set.

Morgan-Wideman, who was 15 when the clerk was killed, is being charged as an adult and is being held without bond. He has pleaded not guilty.

A St. Johns County grand jury indicted Morgan-Wideman on four counts in June: felony first-degree murder, armed robbery with a firearm and two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.

State Attorney R.J. Larizza said the death penalty is not an option for Morgan-Wideman.

"Trying to work with a young person to defend them can be very difficult when you have such a charge, to make sure they understand everything that's going on," said attorney Gene Nichols, who's not connected to the case.

Police said Morgan-Wideman, a runaway teen, shot 29-year-old Malav Desai (pictured below) in the head while robbing the Tobacco & Beverage Express on Masters Drive in St. Augustine in May.

Police said he jumped into a stolen SUV and took off on a high-speed chase with another teenager.

Malav Desai was killed during a robbery at a tobacco shop in St. Augustine.
Malav Desai was killed during a robbery at a tobacco shop in St. Augustine.

Desai's wife, Aakanksha Desai, said the charges against Morgan-Wideman give her some relief as she grieves the loss of her husband.

"I never saw hell in my life. I'm sure hell is better than this," Aakanksha Desai said. "Whatever I do, whatever I say, everything reminds me of him, because my day used to start with him, it used to end with him. Every evening when we would come home, I look at the clock, it reminds me of him. I feel that someone is going to put in the keys to the door and open the door and walk in like he did every evening, but I don't think that's ever going to happen now."

With the couple's families in India, it was just the two of them in the United States. She said they were planning to have children next year.

"He wanted to join the military. We used to argue about that because I told him, 'I don't think I could ever live without you,'" Aakanksha Desai said. "He kept arguing about how he wanted to join the military and serve the country. He was a huge fan of the Wounded Warriors, and like I said, he was very helpful, so that's what he wanted to do.

"He used to make faces, pick on people, make them laugh and just make their day. He was the soul of our family."

Aakanksha Desai, 29, said she wants Morgan-Wideman to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing the love of her life.

"My friend saw the video. They said he gave everything. He was handing over the cash while this person shot him, and I think that's extremely cruel," Aakanksha Desai said. "I wish that person shot me instead of him. At least I wouldn't have to live without him."

Aakanksha Desai said the couple had owned two convenience stores in the past, so her husband had been in the business for six years and knew what to do in that type of situation. She said he was robbed at a gas station that they owned in South Carolina.

She said a man walked in and pointed a gun at him. He thought the man was kidding and slapped the gun away. When he realized it wasn't a joke, he handed over the money and the robber took off.

A St. Augustine school raised thousands of dollars for Aakanksha Desai, which she donated to the Wounded Warrior Project in honor of her husband.

The shooting and chase

Detectives said Morgan-Wideman went into the store wearing a blue hoodie and a red bandana over his mouth. They said the teen grabbed a girl by the shirt, held a gun to her back and then ordered everyone to get on the ground.

Witnesses said Morgan-Wideman yelled at Desai to hand him money. They said he shot Desai in the head and then took off. Desai died at the store.

Police said Morgan-Wideman sped away in a stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee with Andre Robinson Jr. (pictured) behind the wheel. They led officers from multiple law enforcement agencies on a high-speed chase through St. Johns, Putnam and Clay counties.

With a helicopter watching from the sky and police hot on the duo's tail, deputies used stop sticks and performed what's called a PIT maneuver to stop the teenagers and arrest them in Green Cove Springs.

Robinson, now 18, was also indicted for murder and robbery in St Johns County and will be tried as an adult. He also faces charges in Putnam and Clay counties stemming from the police chase.

"(There's) no doubt that at some point, both boys will end up going through a mental health evaluation," Nichols said. "If they are competent to proceed, then it's the defense lawyers' responsibility to find out whether or not the state can prove this case against their clients. And that's why we should see a fairly long time period before any of these cases go to trial, because the defense lawyers are going to have to spend time talking to witnesses, deposing witnesses, having hearings to make sure the state can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt."

Nichols said there is a chance that Morgan-Wideman could get out of jail.

"In the state of Florida, we don't necessarily have a parole system anymore the way other states do, but for a juvenile, at least, there are opportunities to be released, depending upon what the final sentence is and what the outcome is," Nichols said.

Robinson's next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 8.