Home invasion defendants back in court
By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
April 22, 2003
The two men who caused a minor courtroom sensation earlier this month during a home invasion trial appeared again Monday before Circuit Judge Robert Bailey.
The attack happened in the early morning hours of Jan. 10, 2002, at the home of businessman Ralph Morgan and his wife, Elizabeth.
Tracy Darnell Moore, 29, and Lee Amerson, 22, were indicted for armed robbery and kidnapping.
Moore struck a deal with the district attorney's office in February, agreeing to testify against Amerson. In exchange, the kidnapping indictment against him was dismissed and he was sentenced to 15 years.
But, he refused to take the stand April 10 during Amerson's trial, insisting that he didn't remember anything. It left the DA's case in disarray and the jury acquitted Amerson.
After the acquittal, the DA's office moved to revoke Amerson's probation in an earlier conviction for motor vehicle theft and he remained in custody until Monday's Circuit Court hearing.
Amerson pleaded guilty to this crime in November 2001 just two months before his arrest in the home invasion case and received a two-year suspended sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Howell said that, during those two months, he made no move to pay any of his court fees and fines and violated every condition of his probation.
In a second hearing Monday, Assistant District Attorney Dan Angero asked Judge Bailey to set aside Moore's guilty plea in his armed robbery conviction and reinstate both the armed robbery indictment, and the kidnapping indictment dismissed as part of his plea bargain.
These motions came as a direct result of Moore reneging on his agreement to testify in Amerson's trial. If he didn't live up to his side of the bargain, Angero reasoned, then the DA's office shouldn't be required to keep up its end.
Judge Bailey declined to reactivate Moore's indictment for kidnapping, but said the DA's office is free to re-present the case to a future grand jury.
Bailey did not rule on setting aside Moore's guilty plea to armed robbery and reinstating that indictment, however, preferring to think it over and issue a written ruling later.
What complicates the armed robbery charge is that "double jeopardy" may apply the idea that a defendant cannot be tried more than once for the same crime. It is a constitutional protection designed to prevent a prosecutor from coming back again and again until he finally gets a conviction.
Existing precedent, Bailey said, talks about defendants who had pleaded guilty but had not yet been sentenced.
In Moore's case, he had pleaded guilty and had already been sentenced. It is unclear, the judge said, whether you can go backwards from that point. This is why defendants receiving shorter sentences in exchange for testifying generally are not sentenced until they actually do so.
The judge did not say when he would issue his ruling on the armed robbery question.