S. E. Williams
On Count One—Attempted Murder: “Not Guilty,” the court clerk read. Albert Joseph Moyer IV’s family exhaled a sigh of relief and mouthed, “Thank you. Thank you,” in a humble prayer of gratitude, a prayer stifled by the clerk’s next series of pronouncements.
On the lesser charge of Attempted Voluntary Manslaughter: “Guilty.” Inflicting Corporal Injury on a Spouse: “Guilty.” Making Criminal Threats of Death/Great Bodily Injury: “Guilty.” Assault of a Person by means of force likely to produce Great Bodily Injury: “Guilty.” False Imprisonment to Prevent or Dissuade a Witness/Victim from Testifying: “Guilty.” And False Imprisonment: “Guilty.”
Although the Moyer family stoically retained their prayerful postures through each count, the verdicts were overwhelming and tears flowed unabated. Six guilty verdicts on felony charges, three of them super-strikes (serious or violent felony offense). A journey of four years yielded a sorely devastating outcome.
As disappointing as the verdicts were to the family, they were devastating to Moyer himself. After all, he declined two plea deals because he had kept faith, hoping against all odds that truth and justice would prevail. Now Moyer, along with those who love him and others concerned about the fairness of this case, wonder whether ‘the proverbial paradigm of American justice for Black people’ laid the groundwork for his convictions in this case.
Advocates believe Moyer was caught up, as many Black men are, in a criminal justice system that has never been blind in its administration of justice for Black people, unless wealth levels the playing field. As noted by Hillary Clinton last year, “African Americans are more likely to be arrested by police, [convicted], and sentenced to longer prison terms for doing the same thing that whites do.” And, noted by the NAACP, “African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of Whites.
In the wake of last week’s verdicts, many familiar with the case, though staunchly against domestic violence, were incredulous in regard to its outcome. “How did an incident of domestic violence—where both parties sustained injuries, where the accused required medical treatment (including stitches) and the victim did not, where the victim was not available to testify, where there were no third-party witnesses, where the only other witnesses were neighbors who heard a commotion from a separate unit hundreds of yards away and across a parking structure, and where the accused had no previous felony convictions—how did this case result in six guilty verdicts on felony counts?”
The truth about what happened that October night four years ago was known by Moyer and T.L. Over the years, Moyer’s version of events remained basically consistent, but T.L. gave three different accounts of the events. Although parts of her statements were consistent, there were over two dozen discrepancies between how she initially described that night’s events when officers first arrived on the scene versus what she said during an in-depth interview with officers later that same evening versus her later under-oath testimony at the preliminary hearing.
Moyer claimed T.L. attacked him in a jealous rage, split his forehead open with a glass candle holder, and that he fought back in self-defense. T.L. claimed it was Moyer who attacked her in a jealous rage and choked her when she told him she wanted to end their relationship.
Moyer’s fate may have been sealed from the start. The officers on the scene the night of the incident arrested only him; a district attorney threw the book at him for refusing to accept a plea bargain and plead guilty on lesser charges (scholars estimate that about 90 to 95 percent of federal and state court cases are resolved in this manner); and a jury that delivered verdicts based on the evidence presented, instructions provided by the court, and the restrictions of the codes under which Moyer was charged.
California has a mandatory arrest policy for domestic violence. According to the policy, when an officer believes an incident of domestic violence has occurred, and the officer has probable cause to think someone has abused a spouse, partner, or family member, the officer must make an arrest. In some cases, both parties are arrested and charged.
According to California Penal Code 13701 (b) “Peace officers shall make reasonable efforts to identify the dominant aggressor in any incident. The dominant aggressor is the person determined to be the most significant, rather than the first, aggressor.”
The Penal Code also states that when identifying the dominant aggressor, an officer shall consider the intent of the law to protect victims of domestic violence from continuing abuse, threats creating fear of physical injury, history of domestic violence between the persons involved, and whether either person acted in self-defense. In addition, officers retain a measure of discretion regarding domestic violence situations.
On the night of the Moyer incident, according to testimony, the officers who interviewed T.L. decided Moyer was the dominant aggressor based on her statements. Although a separate officer interviewed Moyer independently, the decision to arrest was made without his input. Arresting Moyer and not T.L. was a matter of police discretion.
In 2006, California passed legislation permitting the admission of prior actions of domestic violence in domestic violence prosecutions, allowing a previously domestic violence claim made by T.L. against Moyer in the city of Long Beach on March 21, 2013, to be admitted into evidence.
At trial, the Long Beach Police Officer who responded to the incident testified that when he arrived on the scene, T.L. was standing outside her apartment building and although she seemed upset, he did not see any signs she had been abused. He did note a tiny scratch on her forehead but not the bumps, bruises, and abrasions expected based on the type of beating she described. When he asked her if she had injuries, she said “no” and refused medical attention. The officer never went into the apartment. She stated Moyer was not there. There was no follow-up by Long Beach police.
With the state’s mandatory arrest policy, probable cause, a previous incident of domestic violence, and police discretion, Moyer was arrested and the table set for prosecution. The fact that he claimed self-defense was not considered when he was arrested. Moyer’s fate then rested in the hands of the prosecutor.
Gordon Weekes, long-time Assistant Public Defender in Broward County, Florida wrote, “Prosecutors have more power in this system than any judge, any supreme court, any police officer, or any attorney. They decide what charges to file—or, more importantly, what charges not to file.”
According to Moyer’s father, Albert Joseph Moyer III, the District Attorney’s office made two offers. Moyer’s first attorney, Anthony Brooklier, said that if Moyer agreed to plead guilty to a charge of making a terrorist/criminal threat, he would have gone home in sixty days. The charge was a wobbler, meaning it could be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor after three years’ probation. Reportedly, however, the attorney never communicated this offer to Moyer.
Moyer later secured a new attorney, Angela Fedrichs, who informed him of a second offer from the District Attorney, to plead guilty to Domestic Violence with a penalty of four years and eight months. The DA allegedly told Moyer’s attorney something to the effect of “if your client doesn’t take this deal, I’m going to make him suffer.” Moyer declined. His current attorney, Acer Chiang, expressed his belief that the reason the DA came after Moyer so aggressively was because he did not take either offer. When the DA’s office was originally contacted to comment on the case, it declined.
After Moyer was arrested and charged in this case, T.L. failed to appear for several court dates until she appeared at the preliminary hearing in May 2015. After her testimony, which varied from two previous statements, the charges against Moyer were enhanced to include attempted murder, and his bail increased from $125,000 to one million dollars, and he was remanded into custody where he has remained for more than two years.
To learn what happened during the trial, what happened to T.L. after she testified at Moyer’s preliminary hearing, what facts the jurors were not allowed to hear, and why and how the jury reached the decisions it did, follow the Strange Case of Albert Joseph Moyer IV as it unfolded, in next week’s edition of The Voice.