Thursday, August 12, 1999

Mother convicted of deadly beating


Jury acquits on murder charge

BY DAN HORN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Belanda Moore was convicted Wednesday of beating her 7-year-old daughter so severely that the girl died hours later from her injuries.

        But she avoided a murder conviction because the jury could not agree on whether she knew her actions could kill.

        After two days of tense deliberations, the jury returned with guilty verdicts for involuntary manslaughter and child endangering.

        The jurors were unable to reach unanimous verdicts on three other charges: murder, felonious assault and a second count of child endangering.

        “It was very, very tense,” one of the jurors, Joe Wessling, said of the deliberations. “It was extremely controversial.”

        Although Ms. Moore, 29, of Winton Hills is now facing up to 18 years in prison, prosecutors still could pursue a conviction on the remaining charges at another trial.

        Several jurors, including Mr. Wessling, said they supported a conviction on the other charges but could not muster enough votes for a unanimous verdict on any of them.

        During the trial, Assistant Prosecutor Richard Gibson argued that Ms. Moore beat her daughter, Jasmine, on Feb. 12 for misbehaving at school. He said she used a rolled belt and “stomped” on her chest.

        As Jasmine died slowly from a lacerated liver, Mr. Gibson said, Ms. Moore drank vodka and played cards all night with her friends.

        Jury foreman Ken Weyer said the most hotly debated charge was the second count of child endangering, which alleged that Ms. Moore failed to seek medical attention for her injured daughter.

        “That was difficult,” Mr. Weyer said. “Two and possibly three people on that jury would not have found my mother guilty of my birth because they weren't there at the time of the conception.

        “They kept saying they couldn't convict because they weren't there.”

        He said the jurors voted 10-2 for conviction on the disputed child-endangering charge and 9-3 for conviction on felonious assault.

        Mr. Weyer said the murder vote was 7-5 for acquittal.

        Ms. Moore's attorney, Pete Rosenwald, said he was optimistic prosecutors would “see the futility” of another trial.

        “They got their conviction,” he said.

        The case was the first jury trial in Hamilton County involving a new state law that allows prosecutors to seek murder charges when a defen dant causes a death while in the act of committing a violent felony.

        Under the old law, murder charges could be used only if the defendant “purposely caused the death of another.”

        So a key issue in Ms. Moore's case was whether she “knowingly” used violence that could result in death.

        Mr. Rosenwald called the new law “an abomination” and said the jury made the right choice.

        “It's manslaughter, not murder,” he said.

        Prosecutor Mike Allen said he would decide within the next few days whether to seek another trial on the remaining charges. Judge Robert Kraft will meet with the attorneys Aug. 19 to discuss the next step.

       



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