Christopher Moore gambled and lost.
He will now spend the rest of his life in prison for killing Chester councilman Odell Williams.
After Moore’s first trial in April ended with a hung jury, prosecutors offered Moore a deal for voluntary manslaughter, said William Frick, Moore’s court-appointed public defender for both trials. The second trial ended Thursday with a jury verdict of guilty on murder and weapons charges. The judge in the trials, Paul Burch, sentenced Moore to life in prison without parole after the jury verdict.
Yet Moore, 19, had a chance to potentially serve a prison sentence far less if he had pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Frick said he discussed the plea offer with Moore. Voluntary manslaughter carries a prison sentence of two to 30 years. Murder carries a minimum of 30 years to a maximum of life.
Moore already had a criminal record at the time of the crime, plus he also would have likely had to plead guilty to the weapons charge; he was barred as a felon from possessing any gun. His record would have been used against him in any plea sentence.
“He (Moore) didn’t want to pursue it (a plea deal),” Frick said. “He was not interested in pursuing negotiations.”
It is not surprising that after the first trial ended with a hung jury, prosecutors offered manslaughter to try to ensure a conviction and lengthy prison sentence in the case, said Debra Gammons, a legal expert in criminal law and Charleston School of Law professor.
In any criminal case, it is ultimately the decision of the accused whether to accept any plea offer, Gammons said.
“With a plea offer you know what you have, but in a jury trial there is no knowledge of what the result will be,” Gammons said. “But the client is still in charge.”
Moore gambled to try to seek an acquittal in a trial and a chance to start life over again as a free man. Frick vigorously argued in the second trial self-defense – that Odell Williams not only started the chase, but shot first at Moore and the others. Frick had made the same argument in the first trial.
Moore again testified during the trial this week in Winnsboro that he acted in self-defense. He had done the same thing in the April trial.
Prosecutors called all of Moore’s claims lies. Moore was a killer, they said in court – simple as that.
The jury was not given a charging option during the trial of any lesser offenses, such as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, Frick said. The choice was self-defense, guilty of murder or not guilty.
Moore held his cards, bet everything, and he lost. It took the second jury, after four days of testimony, just two hours to find Moore guilty.
Frick said he was filing notice of appeal paperwork Friday on Moore’s behalf, but another lawyer from the S.C. Office of Indigent Defense who handles appeals for clients who cannot afford lawyers will be assigned the appeals case. Appeals typically take at least 18 months, Frick said.
Moore is not the only defendant facing charges in the death of Williams, 69, a retired police officer who had been a City Council member for 20 years until he was killed. Terrance Buchanan, DeAngelo Roseboro and Derrick Dixon, charged with accessory to murder, testified for prosecutors in the Moore trial. A fourth defendant, Quinton McClinton, did not testify yet also faces accessory to murder charges. All of the defendants have prior criminal records.
Prosecutors also plan to charge the remaining defendants with conspiracy to commit armed robbery after court testimony showed the men were plotting to rob another man before Williams intercepted them. Prosecutors have not yet said when the cases against the remaining defendants will be tried.