Emotional final day in Moore resentencing

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By Travis Jenkins

“When I die and go to see Jesus Christ, if He tells me I have to forgive you to get into heaven, I will go to hell,” Linda Crowl said in court Tuesday to Robert Moore.

Testimony concluded Tuesday in the resentencing trial of Moore, who along with Theodore Harrison was convicted in 1990 of the 1988 double murder of Brian "Scotty" Stephenson and his friend Renee Crowl Rollings, Linda Crowl’s daughter. Moore and Harrison were both sentenced to consecutive life sentences plus 25 years for carjacking and double-murder. A series of high court rulings have found, though, that juveniles sentenced to life without the chance of parole are entitled to a new sentencing. So Moore, 16 when he committed those crimes and a separate armed carjacking, could be sentenced to remain in prison for the rest of his life, could be released from jail or could end up with something in-between. Harrison was recently resentenced to life without parole. Crowl’s emotional plea to judge Frank Addy to keep Moore in prison included a direct plea to Moore to tell her specifically what happened in the final seconds of her daughter’s life. Because of the position the bodies were found in on a wooded Richburg roadside 40 days after the incident, investigators know Stephenson was shot first. He was shot in the head, then shot again once he was on the ground. Rollings was believed to have “known what was coming” and put a hand up to shield herself. A bullet went through one of her fingers and into her forehead. Moore and Harrison both still maintain that the other was the triggerman.

“She tried to fight back. She went for that gun, didn’t she Robert? Answer me!” Crowl said.

Moore appeared to look down at the table as the family members of the victims spoke. Crowl said she loaned her daughter the money for the car Moore and Harrison killed her to steal. Because of that, she said she has spent the last 30 years blaming herself for her daughter’s death.

Brian’s father, Johnny Stephenson, offered Moore a picture of his son so he would remember who he killed. Moore’s attorney, Diana Holt, did accept the picture and laid it on the table. Johnny Stephenson said the death of his son ruined his marriage and forced him to “put up a wall so nobody could ever hurt me again.” After pausing to collect himself several times, he also referenced testimony from earlier in the trial about the development of the adolescent brain.

“It’s not about what’s in the brain, it’s about what’s in the heart. He has a hole a mile deep in his heart,” said Johnny Stephenson, who noted that his son was a good person who worked hard and stayed out of trouble.

During Harrison’s trial, Johnny Stephenson said he believed Harrison was actually the triggerman. Moore’s fingerprints had been found on the hood of Rollings’ car, which he believed showed that he was just the lookout man. As he considered all the evidence since Harrison’s resentencing in February, though, he said he’d changed his mind. Hearing how Moore seemed to be the more aggressive of the two during a later carjacking and a report (which Holt said was discredited) indicating that a short person fired the fatal shots (Moore is 5-foot-6, Harrison 5-foot-11), he said he had now changed his mind. He thinks Moore actually pulled the trigger.

Brad Stephenson, Brian’s brother, said he has a son himself who is about the age Brian was when he was killed. He said he worries constantly about what might happen to him if Moore is allowed outside the walls of a prison.

Earlier on Tuesday, the defense stated its case. Dr. Tora Brawley, a clinical psychologist, said Moore has an IQ of 92, which she deemed to be in the average range. She said he has no dementing conditions.

Harold Charles Heath taught and coached Moore when he was an eighth grader. He said Moore could “run like a rabbit” and was always a popular member of the football team.

“His attitude and demeanor kept us on an even keel. He was a joy to have around,” Heath said.

Moore was not an aggressive person but wasn’t one to back down either, Heath said. He said he was shocked when he heard of Moore’s involvement in the two Chester County murders and a carjacking in the midlands. He said he was less surprised by Harrison’s involvement, saying he got in trouble frequently.

Dr. Susan Knight, a clinical psychologist, was presented as an expert witness by the defense and stayed on the stand for nearly four hours. She said as she conducted 20 hours of interviews with Moore over multiple days, she saw him “shut down” and become emotional during discussions of the shooting. His father was “a problematic drinker,” she said, who verbally berated Moore.

“His father belittled him. He had a critical style of parenting and when he drank it was worse. He felt like he could do nothing right,” Knight said.

When he failed two grades, Knight said Moore’s father called him “dumb” and other names. Moore was so embarrassed by failing and for having to take special education classes, he wanted to transfer to a new school. He also wanted to transfer on another occasion to get away from the bad influences and “bad kids” around him. He tried to hide from his father and became suicidal, Knight said.

Knight said Harrison wasn’t one of Moore’s “regular friends.” Instead, he was part of “immature thinking” and “juvenile fantasy” Moore tried to live out. He often pretended to be a mobster from Miami or a drug dealer. He carried a gun as a way to make himself feel bigger and more powerful than he actually was. At that time, he could not look beyond “the immediacy of his situations” and had trouble connecting consequences with actions.

Since he has been in prison, Knight said Moore has “parented behind bars” to his daughter. He has been in jail for as long as she has been alive. He has poured himself into art (including an illegal jail tattooing business) and became a Shia Muslim. He gravitated to Muslims early in his incarceration because they “seemed to take care of their own” but became more devout as he witnessed more and more acts of violence and murder around him.

The state pointed out that Moore had gotten into trouble during incidents that did not include Harrison. They offered the theory that he had difficulty speaking about the shootings with Knight because he was the murderer. Knight also said when asked that Moore was not able to explain why he participated in a carjacking months after the murders in Chester. The state said it didn’t seem to add up that Moore wanted to get away from bad influences, while he also carried a gun, drank and pretended to be a mobster. Even once he joined what he saw as being a safe circle in jail, he was still caught with weapons on three occasions. The state noted that Moore had incurred 40 infractions in jail so it didn’t make sense to think that he’d suddenly start following society’s rules. As the state questioned Knight about Moore’s participation in an armed carjacking in Richland County months after the Chester murders (the two victims managed to escape when Moore and Harrison stopped for gas), Addy briefly questioned the witness himself.

“Do the obvious similarities between these two incidents give you pause? Does it concern you?” Addy asked.

“It is certainly concerning,” Knight said.

In his closing statements, Sixth Circuit Solicitor Randy Newman said had it not been for an empty gas tank, Moore and Harrison would have carried out four murders. He said Moore and Harrison left the bodies of Stephenson and Rollings to lay for 40 days despite the daily media attention that the disappearance of the two generated. He said they bragged in prison about the murders after being arrested for the subsequent carjacking, which is how they were caught. One of the victims that escaped in the second carjacking said Moore was the clear leader of the two, Newman said. He also pointed out that .38 caliber bullets were found at Moore’s home and that a .38 was the fatal weapon. He urged Addy to show that “in South Carolina, we hold people accountable for their actions” and keep Moore in jail. Holt, after the testimony of the victim’s families, said she was too emotional to put together a closing statement, but made it clear she did not believe Moore deserved to stay in jail for the rest of his life. Moore briefly addressed the court, apologizing for the hurt he had caused.

Addy said he would take a few weeks to consider things before rendering a verdict.