EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Suicidal Tendencies?: Judge Rules Suicide Notes Inadmissible In David Wade Moore Re-Trial

In 2002, David Wade Moore was convicted in Alabama of capital murder and sentenced to the death penalty in connection with the March 12, 1999 killing of socialite Karen Tipton.  This conviction, however, was overturned after it was learned that the prosecution failed to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence such as an FBI report, leading to his current re-trial. 

Moore originally became a suspect in the murder after telling his uncle, Sparky Moore, on April 8, 1999, that he was in Tipton's house when she was murdered.  Moore relayed this admission to his friend, Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lavender, who called the police.  The next day, police found David at a Ramada Inn and took him in for questioning; David waived his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney.  During initial questioning, David was nonchalant and denied knowing Tipton and her husband; however, once it was diclosed that the police knew about David's admission to his uncle, his demeanor changed and he was visibly shaken.  When police thereafter stepped outside of the interrogation room to determine how to proceed, David stabbed himself with a pen knife, causing serious injuries which needed to be treated at the hospital.

Pursuant to the judge's ruling in the re-trial, however, the prosecution will not be able to refer to this self-stabbing as a suicide attempt because there is no evidence of a guilty conscience by David.  Central to this finding was the judge's conclusion that several suicide notes written by David to his family were inadmissible because the state cannot establish when David wrote them

But was this ruling correct?  I'm assuming from the articles written on the case that the import of the judge's ruling on the suicide notes was that the state could not prove whether they were written after Tipton's murder, making them relevant to David's "guilty conscience," or whether they were written before Tipton's murder, making them irrelevant.  But the articles also mention that Assistant Attorney General Corey Maze read a transcript excerpt of Moore's testimony from his trial in 2002 in which he testified that he had written the letters April 8 after talking to his uncle.  If the reporting of this fact is true, I don't see why the judge ruled that the state cannot establish when David wrote the suicide notes.

Like its federal couterpart, Alabama Rule of Evidence 901(a) indicates that "[t]he requirement of authentication or identification as a condition precedent to admissibility is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims." It seems clear to me that this liberal authentication standard should have been met by David's own testimony that he wrote the suicide letters on April 8th, but maybe there's something from the case that the articles are not reporting.



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