Cops and Courts

Murder trial begins in Mon County

The jury trial for Cleotis Cortez-Paul Eppes Jr, 49, accused in the May 7, 2022, murder of Matthew Moore began Tuesday in Monongalia County Circuit Court. 

The Honorable Paul W. Gwaltney will preside over the trial with Monongalia County Prosecutor Gabrielle “Gabe” Mucciola and Assistant Prosecutor Brandon Benchoff representing the state and Defense Attorney Christopher Wilson representing Eppes. 

The victim, Moore, was found on May 7, 2022, lying in the roadway on Round Bottom Road off Smithtown Road just after 1 a.m.  

Detectives on scene determined the cause of death to be a gunshot wound and the manner was ruled a homicide by the West Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office. 

According to the initial criminal complaint, the investigation by detectives with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department included extensive follow-ups, interviews, search warrants, digital evidence and location and communication records associated with Romano, Eppes and Moore. Presented evidence could also include surveillance footage allegedly obtained from multiple locations in and around Mon County. 

Eppes and co-defendant Arlo Whitehead Romano, 44, were charged with first degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy following the police investigation.  

On Feb. 26, Romano agreed to enter a plea of guilty to murder of the second degree, a lesser charge than murder in the first degree for which he was indicted.  The kidnapping and conspiracy charges were dropped as part of the agreement.   

Romano is expected to be one of approximately 27 witnesses attorneys plan to call to the stand throughout the trial. 

Gwaltney approved the prosecutors’ request for two of those witnesses to appear via live video conferencing for their questioning and testimony during the trial with no objection from the defense. 

Prosecutors said they believe the motive for the murder is related to a drug debt owed to Eppes by the victim. The defense plans to argue that Eppes is innocent and has an alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the murder. 

A jury of 14 individuals (12 plus two alternates) was selected Tuesday afternoon out of a pool of over 50. The 11 women and three men will not only determine if the state proves Eppes committed the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, but should they find him guilty, they will also determine whether the subsequent life sentence will include mercy – an opportunity for eventual parole. 

Opening statements from counselors will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning with witness testimony to begin shortly after. The trial is expected to run through the end of the week and possibly into Monday March 11.