Jury retires to consider verdict in Joy Morgan murder trial
- Credit: Archant
A jury has today retired to consider its verdict in the case of a married father accused of murdering a missing Hatfield student who went to the same church.
Shohfah-El Israel is alleged to have killed 20-year-old Joy Morgan in December.
The University of Hertfordshire student has not been seen since Boxing Day and a body has never been recovered, Reading Crown Court has heard.
Ms Morgan and the defendant, of Cricklewood, north London, were members of the Israel United in Christ church in Ilford, east London - which, the trial heard, has rules including a ban on pre-marital sex and women not being alone in the company of men other than their husbands.
Mr Israel, whose birth name is Ajibola Shogbamimu, has been described by the prosecution as a "thoroughly dishonest and manipulative" man who lied about Ms Morgan staying at his flat for two nights after a church celebration dinner.
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He eventually told officers he dropped her off at her Hatfield accommodation on December 28, claiming he initially failed to tell the truth because he was worried about having broken church rules by having a woman who was not his wife staying alone with him.
Ms Morgan regularly took lifts to church with Mr Israel and his wife, and he said she was considered "100% part of the family".
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Giving evidence, he said he allowed her to stay at his flat because she was "upset" and that she revealed to him she was "leaving the church".
He dismissed any suggestion he had sex with her, saying she had slept on a sofa bed and he "did not see her that way at all".
Israel's defence team argued any sexual motive in the case was "merely speculation".
Other witnesses said they had seen Ms Morgan crying and appearing to feel "really down" at the December 26 church event in Hainult Street, and the court heard she had told fellow members about being unhappy in her shared student house and being unsure about her university course.
Her number was removed from a Telegram chat group - consisting of church members - on the evening of December 28, the court heard.
But the prosecution has argued that Ms Morgan, who the court heard had a difficult background and craved "familial love", was happy in the church and had "no intention" of leaving.
The jury was shown a video taken less than two weeks before she went missing in which she described it as "the best family that I've ever had".
Ms Morgan's phone, which has never been found, was detected in the defendant's car in the Stevenage area after she went missing, and the keys to her accommodation were found in the passenger footwell of the car.
No forensic evidence has been presented linking the defendant to the alleged death of Ms Morgan.
Police searched hundreds of acres of land over several days earlier this year, but did not find a body.
The court heard there had been a number of potential sightings of her but police were unable to fully corroborate them due to the short lifespan of CCTV footage.
Ms Morgan was reported to police as missing by her mother on February 7 - six weeks after she was last seen - and Mr Israel was arrested two days later.
The defendant, who is originally from Nigeria and has lived in the UK for 22 years, denies killing Ms Morgan between December 26 and December 30.
The case was adjourned and the jury will resume deliberations on Thursday.