After deliberating for three hours, a DeKalb County Criminal Court Jury of eight women and four men found 34 year old Richard Mooney not guilty of felony murder and theft of property over $1,000 Wednesday afternoon in the death of 63 year old Robert "Bob" Senick.
Mooney is not a free man. He is currently serving a ten year sentence in a Rutherford County car jacking case and is being returned there to be incarcerated.
"Obviously it was a difficult case," said Joshua Crain, attorney for Mooney in an interview with WJLE. "My client was facing first degree murder charges. The state had a good case that they put together with very competent attorneys on their side. A lot of investigation went into this case. Obviously my client is pleased with the outcome. From our standpoint and our investigation of the case, we believe it's the right outcome," said Crain
"My approach to this case was very simple, to look at what the state had done to make sure they had done everything they should have done in order to convict my client. If they had, then he would have gone to prison. If they had not, then it was my job to show that it hadn't been done. That's the approach we took from the beginning and ultimately we were successful with that," said Crain.
"I am surprised by the verdict but unfortunately when you are dealing with a case that involves drugs, more often than not your witnesses are not going to be very credible people," said Gary McKenzie, Deputy District Attorney and one of the state prosecutors in the case. " Our office does take pleasure in the fact that the defendant (Mooney) will continue serving his ten year sentence in a car jacking case in Rutherford County," he said
Prior to the trial, indications are that the defense might have been willing to take a plea to manslaughter, a lesser offense than felony murder, but McKenzie said the District Attorney General's Office did not feel that was appropriate in this case. A manslaughter conviction could have carried a sentence of 5 to 10 years. Under that arrangement, Mooney could have been eligible for release after serving at least 30% of the sentence.
Had he been convicted of felony murder, Mooney could have been facing a life prison sentence.
Crain told WJLE that perhaps the biggest concern of the case for the defense was the DNA evidence. "There's no doubt. With today's popular media, just those three little letters, DNA to a lot of people become the magic bullet," he said.
Denying charges that he murdered Robert "Bob" Senick almost three years ago, Richard Mooney testified in his own defense Tuesday, on the second day of his murder trial in DeKalb County Criminal Court.
"He was a friend of mine. I didn't have anything to do with his death," said Mooney, referring to Senick, whose charred remains were found beneath the rubble of his burned down trailer home on October 7, 2009 near Liberty. Senick had been shot once in the head.
Investigators believe Mooney shot Senick, stole drugs and cash from the residence, and then burned down the home. But Mooney, often sounding defiant while on the witness stand, insisted that investigators never had any proof of his guilt. Mooney accused TBI agent Billy Miller and Sheriff Patrick Ray of twisting the truth in order to try and win a conviction against him in court.
After hearing from six witnesses on Monday, prosecutors Gary McKenzie and Greg Strong called six more witnesses Tuesday, including Sheriff Ray, and then rested the state's case. Mooney's attorney, Crain called four witnesses for the defense, including Mooney, who chose to take the stand, he said so that the jury could hear the truth. "I have nothing to hide", said Mooney.
Mooney, who has a history of criminal activity including thefts, assault, and carjacking in other counties, claimed it was ridiculous to think he would have killed Senick for cash, when Senick, according to Mooney would have willingly given him any money he needed, if he had it because he was such a good friend.
So why then was Mooney's DNA or blood found on Senick's Lincoln Towncar, canopy poles supporting the awning over the car, and on a knife and sheath found on the hood of Senick's car?
Mooney had an explanation. He testified that a few days before Senick's death, he went to visit Senick and took along his pit bull. When he arrived, the dog jumped out of the vehicle and began fighting with Senick's much larger dog. Mooney said he grabbed a knife and stick to pull the dogs apart and was bitten by Senick's dog, causing him to bleed. Mooney claims he put the knife down on Senick's car and must have brushed up against both the car and the canopy poles leaving behind the blood stains, later found by investigators after Senick's death.
Following Mooney's testimony, the state called Chief Deputy Don Adamson to the stand for brief testimony. Adamson said he remembered seeing Senick on the afternoon before his death. Adamson said both he and Senick were driving in the same direction, heading west on Highway 70 near Dowelltown. As Adamson passed Senick's Lincoln Towncar, he looked over but did not spot any stains on the vehicle. According to Adamson, that is something he most likely would have remembered, had they been there. After Adamson's testimony Judge Leon Burns, Jr. sent the jurors home for the night.
Closing arguments began Wednesday morning, followed by Judge Burns' charge to the jury. The jurors then retired to the jury room to begin deliberations at 11:10 a.m. They returned with their verdict at 2:10 p.m.
WJLE was the only news source to cover the trial from beginning to end. The following is a summary of witness testimony on Tuesday.
Warren Glasby, a cousin of Mooney, testified that shortly after he had gotten out of prison, he and Mooney were in a car together when Mooney confessed to killing Senick. Crain, Mooney's attorney asked why Glasby had waited two years to give that statement to investigators, having come forward with this development only a little over a month ago. Crain asked whether Glasby was expecting a plea deal from state prosecutors in exchange for his testimony, since Glasby is currently facing a possible 20 year prison sentence on pending charges of selling drugs in a school zone. Glasby denied Crain's assertion and then began to blame Mooney for his having had to serve a twelve year sentence in a carjacking case he and Mooney were involved in at Rutherford County. "I got a twelve year sentence because of him (Mooney). He took me away from my family," said Glasby. Crain then asked Glasby if perhaps he had come forward to testify because he was mad at Mooney and saw this as a way of getting back at him. Glasby denied it.
Sheriff Ray testified that when he interviewed Mooney during the investigation, he noticed that Mooney had a cut on his wrist and had asked him about it. Mooney claimed that he had got the cut while working on a car he had bought that had broke down. Sheriff Ray, convinced that Mooney had received the cut while at Senick's home during the killing, informed Mooney that investigators had obtained DNA evidence at the scene. Sheriff Ray said Mooney kept asking about what kind of DNA and where it had been found. Mooney asked if the DNA were on cigarette butts or on drink cans. According to the Sheriff, Mooney surmised that the DNA could not have been found inside Senick's home because it would not have survived the fire. After Sheriff Ray told Mooney that blood had been found, Mooney brought up that he and Senick had done some cocaine and that his nose had bled, apparently making an excuse for why the blood was at the scene. But earlier in the interrogation, Sheriff Ray said that Mooney had denied being a big drug user, saying that he preferred beer and liquor.
As for the cut to Mooney's wrist, John Vantrease of Alexandria and formerly of Auburntown testified that he had seen Mooney a few days after Senick's death and that Mooney had told him he had cut his wrist while working on the gear shifter in the console of the car, which had stuck. Vantrease said Mooney was a friend of his but that he had not known Senick very well.
Shortly after Senick's death, Mooney went to Murfreesboro where he bought a used Saturn for $1,200. James Jarvis, a salesman for Battleground Motor Company in Murfreesboro, testified that he sold Mooney the car. Jarvis said the Saturn was in the price range of the car Mooney was looking for. But after he had gotten only three miles down the road, the car broke down as something went wrong with the gear shift. Although investigators claim someone from the dealership came to his assistance, Mooney said he tried to fix the car himself, resulting in the cut to his wrist. Mooney had the car only a short time when he sold it for $152 to a salvage yard in Woodbury, where the car was crushed.
Donald Dillon, a resident of Dowelltown who admitted selling oxycontin to Mooney and his sister and her boyfriend on a few occasions, recalled how that on the last visit, October 3, 2009 Mooney and his sister had no cash to buy the drugs. Dillon let them have the drugs anyway, telling them they could sell it and bring him back the money later, which they did, according to Dillon. On another occasion after Senick's death, Dillon recalled that Mooney had come to his home asking for a ride which led to him taking Mooney to his parent's home. During the ride, Mooney asked him if he knew of anyone who would be interested in buying a nine millimeter handgun. Dillon said when they arrived at Mooney's parents home, they saw deputies there, and Mooney asked him to back out of the driveway. But Mooney eventually got out of the car.
Dr. Laura Boos of the TBI Crime Lab DNA unit, said she tested blood spots and or DNA found on Senick's car, canopy poles, and the knife and sheath found at the crime scene, comparing it with a known DNA sample taken from Mooney and she got a match. However, Dr. Boos couldn't say how long the DNA had been present on those items before they were discovered. "The tests can't tell you how or when the DNA got there," she said.
Attorney Crain, during cross examination of TBI Agent Billy Miller, asked why investigators focused on Mooney when there were others of questionable character associated with Senick who may have been involved in his death. He even mentioned one man who showed up at the Lebanon Police Department a month after Senick's death wanting to know if there was a warrant against him for the disappearance of a man named "Bob". Agent Miller said he and Sheriff Ray went to Lebanon and talked to the man, but found him to be delusional. Still, according to Crain, "People lied to investigators, concealed involvement, concealed fireams, and had criminal connections to Senick". But, he said " after the TBI confirmed the presence of DNA, you viewed it as the smoking gun, even though there was evidence pointing in different directions." Agent Miller explained that investigators followed all leads until they ran dry, which they did on everyone except Mooney.
State Prosecutors tried to show Tuesday how that Mooney didn't have enough money to buy drugs from Donald Dillon only a few days before Senick's murder, according to Dillon's testimony, but that in the days after the killing Mooney had as much as $1,200 to buy a car in Murfreesboro. This they believe, implicates Mooney in the theft as charged in the indictment. And since Mooney had talked about selling a nine millimeter pistol, according to Dillon's testimony, prosecutors apparently tried to show that Mooney had access to a weapon and that this may have been the gun used in the killing. No gun was ever produced at trial. And although, according to the autopsy, Senick had died from a single gunshot that passed from back to front through his head, no projectile was ever recovered at the crime scene.
Alan Mooney, a defense witness and Mooney's brother, testified that he and Mooney did have a good source of income at one time, working together doing brick and block work in Murfreesboro. He said they also hauled scrap metal to a salvage yard in Woodbury, making money that way. According to Alan Mooney, there were some weeks when they were cashing $10,000 checks. Mooney said he had not known of his brother's drug activity with Dillon.
Mooney's attorney, Crain claimed there was no evidence to support the state's charges of murder and theft and after the testimony, he filed a motion with the court for a judgment of acquittal, which is a standard procedure by defense attorneys at the conclusion of a trial. He said the state had shown no proof that Mooney had killed or stolen anything from Senick. And the presence of Mooney's DNA at the scene is not proof that he committed a crime there, according to Crain.
Judge Burns overruled Crain's motion and allowed the jury to decide the case.