Oxford police tell of their work during third day of murder retrial
by Cameron Steele
csteele@annistonstar.com
Dec 07, 2011 | 5170 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The photograph showed Eugene Johnson lying face down in a field. His arms were sprawled out beside his head.

The Oxford man in the picture was dead: The jury and others in the Calhoun County courtroom Wednesday had a clear view of the blood on his blue shirt, his jeans, the grass beneath his body.

Prosecutors displayed the photograph as they questioned a former Oxford police lieutenant about his investigation on Oct. 14, 2003.

Russell Bryan, the lieutenant, said that Johnson had been shot in the back of the head.

“And when we turned him, he had an exit wound in the front,” Bryan said during the trial for Preston Louis Moore, the man accused of shooting Johnson, Xerxes Stanford and Stanford’s then-15-year-old daughter Tatiana Johnson.

Third day

Wednesday marked the third day of a retrial for the Anniston defendant, who is charged with capital murder and two counts of attempted murder.

It was also the third day that Calhoun County prosecutors had the floor as they attempted to connect Moore to the shootings.

District Attorney Brian McVeigh and Chief Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hammond largely relied on witness testimony, as they have for much of the trial.

Law enforcement officials testified about their investigative evidence that pointed to Moore as the shooter, while other witnesses discussed Moore’s whereabouts on the evening of the shootings, which occurred just north of downtown Oxford.

Larry Champion, a man who worked at a SuperValu grocery distribution center with Moore, said the defendant never showed up for his job loading goods on the night of Oct. 14, 2003. Neither, for that matter, did Samuel Kelly, the man who police consider to have been Moore’s partner in the shootings. (Kelly has since died in a traffic accident.)

Champion said he specifically remembered the men’s absence, because “in the media, I seen they were being looked for — for the murder.”

Meanwhile, on cross-examination, defense attorneys repeatedly emphasized that no physical evidence linked Moore to the 2003 crimes.

Defense lawyer Randy Brooks spent several minutes questioning the former Oxford lieutenant about how the department processed the crime scene.

The state Department of Forensic Sciences was not called to help with collecting the evidence, Brooks ascertained through his questioning, something that many local law enforcement agencies did when the state agency still provided that service.

But more than that, Brooks focused on what investigators didn’t have:

“In fact, there is no physical evidence in this file that connects to Preston Moore?” he asked.

“No sir,” Bryan answered.

Processing the scenes

The former Oxford lieutenant supervised the investigative division in 2003 and spent more than an hour Wednesday on the stand as he explained how the crime scenes were investigated.

Previous testimony from prosecutors’ witnesses described this version of events:

On Oct. 14, 2003, Moore and Kelly entered Xerxes Stanford’s home at 196 Hinds St., shot Stanford and Tatiana Johnson in the living room and minutes later shot Eugene Johnson in that nearby field when he tried to flee.

Oxford investigators snapped photographs of each of the scenes, collected spent cartridges from the field and from the Hinds Street home and shipped those shell casings to the Alabama Department of Public Safety for fingerprint analysis.

A public safety analyst testified Wednesday he had been unable to lift any clear prints from the spent cartridges left in the field.

Additionally, police took photographs and evidence from a neighbor’s home, where Tatiana Johnson fled for help after she had been shot in the face.

The prosecution’s case hinges upon the testimony of that young victim, now a 24-year-old nurse who goes by her married name, and a differently spelled first name, Tationna Williams.

She told jurors Tuesday that she knew “without a doubt” that Moore was the man who chased her down, tried to shoot her once in the head and eventually succeeded, firing a bullet into her face.

Corroboration?

On Wednesday, another man who was at the Hinds Street home when the shootings occurred corroborated Williams’ story.

Demarias Kirksey was hanging out with Stanford and Eugene Johnson that night in the living room, he said.

Kirksey testified that the minute the front door opened to show Kelly, Moore’s alleged accomplice, he heard a gunshot and he ran. Kirksey said he hid in the closet in Stanford’s bedroom and listened as Moore chased down Stanford’s daughter, who also tried to flee to the back of the house.

As the 15-year-old girl pleaded with Moore, Kirksey said he heard the defendant say: “Don’t be praying now, bitch.”

Defense attorneys jumped all over Kirksey’s testimony, highlighting that he never actually saw Moore at the house.

The only man Kirksey laid eyes on was the alleged accomplice Kelly, the defense emphasized.

Other testimony

Prosecutors used the testimony of other witnesses Wednesday to help cast suspicion upon Moore.

In addition to Champion’s assertion that Moore was not at work the night of the shootings, other Anniston residents said they were at a local house party where they saw Moore late on Oct. 14, 2003, and early the next morning.

Ernestine Jones, one of those to testify, said she saw Moore around 1 a.m. on Oct. 15, 2003. He had “a large bag of money” and guns with him, Jones said.

But defense attorney Randy Johnston attempted to poke holes in Jones’ story by pointing out that she had spent most of that night snorting powder cocaine and drinking beer.

Moore sat quietly throughout the testimony against him Wednesday, hands often folded on the table in front of him.

A previous jury convicted him of the crimes in a 2007 trial and sentenced him to life in prison without parole. But the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals later sent the case back to the local circuit court earlier this year, stating that the trial had violated Moore’s rights as a defendant.

The fourth day of the new trial resumes this morning with the prosecution’s final witness in Circuit Judge Malcolm Street’s courtroom. Once the state rests, the defense plans to present several witnesses in its case.

Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562.
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