Seven years after he was condemned to death for the capital murder of Karen Tipton, a Morgan County jury on May 15, 2009, found Daniel Moore not guilty of the killing, making him the eighth Alabama death row inmate to be exonerated.
Mr. Moore was convicted of capital murder in November 2002 and, although the jury recommended life imprisonment without parole, he was sentenced to death by Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson.
Judge Thompson subsequently learned that Assistant Attorney General Don Valeska and a Decatur police investigator had illegally withheld an exculpatory 245-page FBI document. Valeska had told the court that no such document existed. “It frustrated and angered me that [Valeska] would be willing to lie to the court,” Thompson told WHNT reporter Amber Stuart in an interview earlier this week. “Clearly, the only remedy was to grant [Mr. Moore] a new trial and I did.”
Judge Thompson reversed the conviction and sentence and ordered a new trial in March 2003. In February 2005, the judge granted a defense motion to dismiss the indictment against Mr. Moore. In 2006, over Mr. Moore’s argument that a new trial would violate the Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated the indictment and ordered a new trial.
A second trial against Mr. Moore ended in a mistrial last year when the jury deadlocked after almost six days of deliberations. Mr. Valeska vowed to try Mr. Moore “as many times as it takes to get a guilty verdict.”
The third trial began with jury selection on April 13, 2009. On Friday, May 15, 2009, the jury ended its seventh day of deliberations by returning its verdicts acquitting Mr. Moore of four counts of capital murder and intentional murder.
Mr. Moore was released from custody after nearly 10 years in jail and on death row.
Judge Thompson said of the acquittal in an interview Monday, “I felt like it was the only conclusion that a jury could reach if they actually followed the law.” He hopes that some day the actual perpetrator will be found and brought to justice for Mrs. Tipton’s killing.
Problems with the prosecution withholding evidence continued throughout the ten years during which the State of Alabama sought to secure a death sentence for Mr. Moore. WHNT-TV reported that, days before the third trial started, the prosecution told the defense they had just found a copy of the hard drive of the Tipton’s home computer.
The facts of this case — where a lawyer from the Attorney General’s office lied to a judge and suppressed evidence that should have been turned over to the defense — raise important questions about the reliability of Alabama’s death penalty system, including whether other people currently are on death row as a result of improper conduct by prosecutors.