• Stepmom accused of starving daughter will represent herself in death penalty case

    By: Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution , Tony Thomas

    Updated:

    GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - Jury selection will continues tomorrow in the death penalty case of a Gwinnett mother accused of starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter to death.

    Tiffany Moss will represent herself as Gwinnett County prosecutors seek the death penalty against her. Moss faces murder and child cruelty charges for allegedly starving 10-year-old Emani Moss to death and then burning her body in 2013.

    Channel 2 Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Tony Thomas was inside the courtroom all day Monday following jury selection.

    “We are going to talk about some things today that aren't the normal conversations,” District Attorney Danny Porter told the potential jurors.


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    Moss is representing herself in the trial and asked very few questions during the first day of jury selection. 

    Moss could face the death penalty if convicted of starving Emani Moss to death in 2013. Her husband has already entered a plea deal to similar charges.

    Day One of the trial has exposed how tough it could be to find a jury. Several hundred people have been called for questioning. Dozens have already been excused because of conflicts or travel plans.

    While many prospective jurors said they could consider either the death penalty of life in prision, at least one said no way considering the crime.

    Moss has not indicated how many witnesses she might call for her defense. Prosecutors said they have a list of 22 people including her husband, who agreed to testify as part of his deal. 

    The judge, prosecutors and Moss are expected to questions potential jurors for several more days before beginning testimony in the trial. 

    BACKGROUND

    As described by law enforcement, the brutal death of 10-year-old Emani Moss is one of the most notorious cases of child abuse in Georgia history. The young girl weighed only 32 pounds when her charred body was found in a dumpster outside the apartment where she lived.

    Moss has said she is leaving her fate in God’s hands, rather than the two experienced public defenders who were initially assigned to represent her. They work for the state’s capital defender office, which is credited as a primary reason no one has received a death sentence in Georgia in more than five years.

    The last time a death sentence was handed down by a Georgia jury was March 2014 in Augusta against Adrian Hargrove, who committed a triple murder. When asked why death sentences have become so rare, prosecutors and defense attorneys agree with Mauldin’s assessment: The availability of a life-without-parole sentence is seen by many as more acceptable.

    Without a skillful and cohesive defense, Moss could break the drought and receive Georgia’s first death sentence in years.

    Nationally, views about the death penalty have also been changing. Over the past decade, eight states abolished capital punishment through court rulings, moratoria issued by governors and repeals at the ballot box or in the Legislature.

    And there have even been some signals of shift in a law-and-order state like Georgia. Last month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty here. It was introduced too late to move this session but will be up for consideration when lawmakers gather again next year.

    But the death penalty still remains on the books in Georgia and this week it’s staring Moss in the face.

    Brad Gardner and Emily Gilbert, the two capital defenders initially assigned to represent Moss, have said she stopped talking to them months ago. Hutchinson has assigned them to be “standby counsel,” and they sit in the courtroom gallery ready to assist Moss if she asks for help.

    During trial, it’s possible the capital defenders could ask Hutchinston to reconsider his decision. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that defendants found competent to stand trial are not necessarily competent to represent themselves if they can’t conduct their own defense. The court said the trial judge should made such a decision in the interest of achieving a fair trial.

    If Moss wants to end her case, she can do so now.

    District Attorney Danny Porter said he’s offered Moss the same plea agreement he offered her husband. If she pleads guilty to Emani’s murder, Porter will withdraw the death penalty and allow her to be sentenced to life without parole. But that offer stands only until a jury is selected, expected sometime this week, he said.

    Porter also told Hutchinson that the last time he broached such an agreement with Moss, “she emphatically stated she did not want to discuss a plea.”

    Background information was written by Bill Rankin for our partners at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

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