Mistakes costly in pursuit of justice
Brandon Moore won’t be freed from prison as a result of a judicial error during his 2008 trial for killing his toddler stepson. But, as of right now, he faces 48 years in prison — and the possibility of parole much sooner — instead of the life sentence he was serving for first-degree murder until Thursday.
That’s when the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed Moore’s murder conviction based on what it said was a serious error on the part of Mesa County District Judge Thomas Deister when giving instructions to the jury.
The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Moore in the first-degree murder charge.
The appeals court refused to overturn Moore’s conviction on child abuse resulting in death for the 2007 death of 23-month-old Logan Acord. Therefore, the 48-year sentence remains in effect.
It’s unfortunate that the people of Mesa County will have to pay for a new trial — and the family of Logan Acord will have to go through the trauma of testifying and hearing the evidence surrounding the youngster’s death — if Moore’s murder conviction is to be reinstated.
But it isn’t as if Deister made some minor mistake regarding obscure legal rules. The Court of Appeals said Deister’s error was obvious “because it was directly contrary to long-established United States Supreme Court and Colorado Supreme Court precedent.”
As a result, the appeals court said, Deister’s jury instructions “undermined the reliability of the verdict.”
Deister’s error involved giving the jury an incorrect explanation of what it means to “knowingly” take action that leads to a death in the context of first-degree murder.
That may sound like a technicality, but the instructions a judge gives to a jury before it considers evidence and reaches a verdict are critical in how a jury examines that evidence and what verdict it reaches. It is a fundamental part of our judicial system.
Moreover, it’s not as if the Court of Appeals was hostile to the prosecution in this case. In fact, it dismissed a half-dozen arguments from the defense in rejecting the defense request to overturn Moore’s conviction on child abuse resulting in death.
Logan Acord was brutally killed. He suffered repeated blows to the head and was bitten several times.
The story presented by Moore’s defense — that Logan Acord slipped and hit his head in the bathtub and that Moore hit and bit him in a panicked attempt to revive Acord — didn’t jibe with how a physician and a coroner explained the youth’s injuries.
But now, because of Deister’s error in giving instructions to the jury, the most serious offense for which Moore was convicted has been overturned.