A Baltimore judge on Tuesday handed down the stiffest penalty possible — six consecutive life terms, plus another 100 years — to a man convicted of orchestrating retaliatory shootings that killed one person and injured five.
Robert G. Moore, 45, who refused to participate in the trial, wasn't present in the courtroom as Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown delivered the sentence. Brown noted that Moore had shown no remorse for inciting such violence in an attempt to avenge the fatal stabbing of his cousin.
Brown said he had "no words to describe the tragic events that bring us to this point."
"The circumstances surrounding this case leave the court speechless," the judge added, citing recorded phone calls from jail in which Moore ordered another shooting even after he had been arrested.
According to Brown, Moore was heard on the calls saying that if the intended target couldn't be located to "shoot the sister, shoot the first person you see." Prosecutors said Moore and his associates declared war on an entire East Baltimore block.
The case dated to 2011, when Moore's nephew, former high school wrestling star Darian Kess, 27, was killed. Prosecutors said Moore's wife, Sarah Hooker, found a witness to the stabbing, who identified a man named 26-year-old Alex Venable as one of those involved in the stabbing.
That set off a series of shootings, prosecutors said, with Venable killed and five others wounded. Hooker and others pleaded guilty to their roles in the case, then testified as prosecutors went to trial against Moore and two others.
Fellow defendant Anthony Roach, 36, was sentenced to two life terms for attempted murder, conspiracy and gun charges, Quincy Chisholm, 22, was convicted of murder conspiracy and sentenced to life with all but 40 years suspended.
Moore was convicted of murder, conspiracy, attempted murder and other charges.
Moore's sentence was one of the most severe in recent memory — the maximum sentence possible on each of the counts for which he was convicted. For comparison, D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad also received six consecutive life sentences after being convicted in Montgomery County in 2006.
Assistant State's Attorney Kelly Madigan, who pushed for five consecutive life sentences plus 100 years, said it "might sound excessive," but said Moore's "nine-month path of terror" was a situation "not contemplated by society, or the Maryland sentencing guidelines."
Attorneys for the defendants said they planned to appeal.
The case, investigated with agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, was an opportunity for State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein to showcase a new Major Investigations Unit, in which special prosecutors work on complex, multi-defendant cases.
But the trial was not without problems, as the two assistant state's attorneys handling the case were held in contempt of court and fined $100 after secretly arranging a lunch date between two cooperating witnesses.
In a statement, Bernstein said he was "deeply gratified by the convictions and the lengthy prison sentences we secured."
Moore was not present for most of the trial. He claimed that he had Moroccan roots that rendered him exempt from American law. His attorney, James Scott, told Brown that Moore had "rather unorthodox views" but that they should not be held against him.
Scott said that some of the co-defendants who pleaded guilty in the case and testified against Moore were the ones who carried out the crimes, and he shouldn't be punished more harshly than those who pulled the trigger.
After the sentencing, Moore's relatives said he was not given a fair trial and alleged that witnesses had been coerced into their testimony.
"I'm not saying he was in the right way of living, but violence was never in his record," said an aunt, Doris Talley. "He's no kingpin."
Contrary to his family's assertions, prosecutors wrote in a memo to the judge that Moore's history showed "a pattern of violence."
Moore has an extensive criminal history, according to court documents, including convictions for two separate assaults on corrections officers committed while he was imprisoned on another unrelated conviction. Prosecutors also said that Moore plotted to kill a prosecutor handling this case.
Jane Loving, who represented Roach, noted that other defendants in the case who were more closely involved in the shootings but had pleaded guilty, received comparably shorter sentences. She asked the judge to impose a term of forty years.
And Garland Sanderson, an attorney for Chisholm, said that his client had only a tangential role in the conspiracy and had been influenced by older people he considered family. He said Chisholm — who had no prior criminal record as an adult — also was young enough that he could still turn his life around.
He asked for a sentence of life with all but 10 years suspended, but Brown followed the prosecution's recommendation.
"You say your client had a minor role," Brown said, "but he played a minor role in a major, criminal, tragic event in the community."
Prosecutors made the same point in court documents. They urged the judge to impose stiff sentences on all the defendants and recommended a term for Chisholm that fell outside the usual guideline range, because the guidelines "do not contemplate this type of charge and accordingly should not be the sole guide for the court in imposing a just sentence."
But in the memo, prosecutors saved their harshest words for the head of the conspiracy.
"Robert Moore is a dangerous man who, as part of a personal vendetta, has been found guilty of serial acts of extensive violence," prosecutors wrote. "Moore was the architect of this reign of terror that he unleashed against Alex Venable, his family and their associates. Driven by vengeance, Moore took on the roles of judge, jury and executioner."
Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.
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