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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Police tactics in '75 murder case debated

Three weeks out of a mental hospital, Curtis Jasper Moore spent the night of Jan. 8, 1975, at the Emporia police station asking for his mother.

He sang "The Ballad of Paladin," the theme song of an old television Western, and his focus wandered. According to a transcript of the interrogation, Greensville County Sheriff Earl D. Sasser kept telling him, "Look at me. Look at me."

Losing his patience, Sasser said: "You're not half as damn nuts as you act like you are, you know that? You know what happened last week, don't you? Huh?"

Moore implicated himself and was convicted of one of the worst crimes in Emporia history: the rape and murder of Eva King Jones, an 88-year-old pillar of the community.

Thirty-three years later -- two years after Moore's death -- the case was reopened, and police charged an Emporia sex offender with the slaying. If Moore is cleared, it will not be the first time DNA has proved that a mentally impaired person made a false confession in a Virginia murder investigation.

Guilt or innocence aside, "it seems the police broke every rule in the book" during Moore's interrogation, said Steven A. Drizin, a professor at Northwestern University Law School and an expert on false confessions.

H. Benjamin Vincent, the former commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted Moore, defended the questioning. "Those police officers, I knew them well, and they didn't rubber-hose him. That just didn't happen," he said.

Drizin said the problem was that police were interrogating a mentally ill suspect. Found guilty in 1978, Moore's convictions were thrown out five years later, after federal courts ruled his rights had been violated. [Mark Godsey]

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