A McGregor man who stabbed and killed a teenager during a family squabble outside the Gospel Cafe in June 2014 was sentenced Tuesday to 19 years in prison.

Judge Ralph Strother of Waco’s 19th State District Court said he had to think long and hard before deciding to accept the plea bargain offered to Michael Eugene Morgan, especially since he was aware the victim’s family was staunchly opposed to the plea agreement.

Morgan, 40, had been charged with murder but was offered the lesser charge of manslaughter in exchange for 19 years in prison.

Morgan was on parole when he stabbed 19-year-old Temar Henley in the chest during an altercation that started inside the Gospel Cafe, 825 S. 10th St., and spilled out into the parking lot, according to police reports.

Strother postponed sentencing Morgan for two weeks until the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office could contact Henley’s family about the plea offer. District Attorney Barry Johnson said the family did not approve of the plea bargain and declined to meet again with the DA’s office.

No one from Henley’s family attended Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.

Johnson said it is a difficult decision to weigh what he believes is justice against the wishes of a victim’s family.

“It can be exceedingly difficult,” Johnson said. “That is where we lose sleep. I have lost a lot of it over this plea because I hate it for our families. But a death penalty for them probably wouldn’t be enough after losing a child. But we have to set those things aside and look at the law and look at the facts and do what we think is right. I think it was a just plea, although it makes me sick that it happened. Two families going over there to get something to eat and they just have a little dust-up and it ends in tragedy. It was just a doggone tragedy.”

While acknowledging the displeasure of Henley’s family, Strother reluctantly accepted the plea agreement.

“This is a very old case,” the judge said before sentencing. “This case happened in 2014. Like other cases before me today, this is a very tough call to make. A life was lost. Do you understand that? I understand the family of the victim is understandably upset. I also understand the realities of criminal justice, and sometimes you have to make decisions that you would prefer not to make. This is one of them.”

Morgan will be given credit on his sentence for the 1,890 days he spent in the county jail waiting for his case to be resolved. He must be given credit for serving at least half of his sentence before he can be considered for parole.

“Obviously, this is a difficult case all around,” said Morgan’s attorney, Robert Callahan. “While we believed in Mr. Morgan’s defense, there are risks involved in trials. Michael didn’t wake from bed intent on harming anyone that day. Yet, a life was lost. Michael decided that this plea was the best for all, including the victim’s family.”

Callahan said he thinks his client could have had a valid self-defense claim had he gone to trial.

Henley’s mother, Theresa Martinez, who witnessed the incident, told the Tribune-Herald in 2014 that the altercation began as she and her boyfriend were walking into the cafe as a man and a woman were leaving.

“My boyfriend opened the door for them, but the girl thought the door hit her,” she said. “Her boyfriend raises hell and yells at my boyfriend, and my son came out to see what was going on. They all started arguing, and he was trying to break it up.”

That was when her son was stabbed, she said.

“My son never hurt anyone,” she said. “He lost his life behind this. He was right there with me. It happened right in front of my face.”

The murder charge against Morgan was enhanced because he was convicted in Coryell County of possession of a controlled substance in 2008. The enhancement bumped the minimum charge he faced from five to 15 years.

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Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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