Kerwin Duncan and Simon Morris

Kerwin Duncan, left (provided photo); and Simon Morris, via OPSO

Family members of a man who was beaten to death Friday while allegedly trying to steal someone's wallet identified the man Monday as 31-year-old Kerwin Anthony Duncan. 

A cousin who asked not to be identified by name said that Duncan had fallen on hard financial times and that family members hope prosecutors will bring criminal charges against his killer.

That man's attorney, meanwhile, appears to be preparing to argue self-defense. 

Police quickly arrested Duncan’s accused killer — Simon Morris, also 31 — and recommended that prosecutors charge him with manslaughter, defined as a killing immediately following a provocation that would ordinarily cause someone to lose their composure.

Manslaughter has no mandatory minimum punishment but can carry up to 40 years in prison, while a murder charge would call for an automatic life sentence. 

Morris’ family has hired attorneys Seth Bloom and David Gremillion to defend him. Bloom said his client's actions were justified as he fended off a man who had harassed and then robbed him.

While Morris is white and Duncan was black, Bloom said there is no indication race factored into the deadly encounter.

“Facts are still coming out, but we plan on providing a robust defense for my client, who was the victim of a theft, really, and was defending himself,” said Bloom.

According to police, Duncan approached Morris and asked him for a dollar at the Express Mart Gas Station at 4140 S. Claiborne Ave. just after 8 a.m. Friday. Duncan then allegedly reached into Morris’ back pocket, grabbed his wallet and ran across South Claiborne at Milan Street.

Morris chased Duncan and caught up with him at the back driveway of Hi Class Customs, a window tinting and upholstery shop about a block away. Morris took back his wallet and then began striking Duncan with his fists and feet for what seemed like five minutes, police said, citing eyewitness accounts.

Duncan tried to cover his face and body as he was “begging Morris to stop,” police said. 

Investigators said at least two people tried to restrain Morris before he was pulled off of Duncan, who was later pronounced dead at University Medical Center.

Without elaborating, Bloom said there was more to the story than the police’s initial account of the incident. He said he planned to file a motion in court to reduce the $150,000 bail set for Morris following his arrest.

A man with Morris’ name and date of birth has prior arrests in the area of Tampa, Florida, on allegations of marijuana possession and domestic violence battery, according to court records.

Duncan received a two-year prison sentence in October 2008 after pleading guilty in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to purse snatching, records show.

A week before his death, Orleans Parish prosecutors had dropped a simple burglary charge against him. He was due in court this week in connection with a separate felony theft charge. 

Duncan was working odd jobs through a temporary agency and was struggling to make ends meet recently, the cousin said.

The cousin added, "He was going through a rough patch, but we definitely don't think he deserved death." 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

(504) 636-7433