Cops and Courts

Day 2 of Moore murder trial – Romano gives his version of events

The trial for one of the men accused in the May 2022 murder of Matthew Moore continued Wednesday with opening statements from attorneys and testimony from 10 people. Cleotis Cortez-Paul Eppes Jr., 49, of the Detroit area, also known as “Ghost,” faces charges for first degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder and/or kidnapping.   

In her opening, Monongalia County Prosecutor Gabrielle “Gabe” Mucciola told jurors how Moore’s body was found lying face down in the middle of Round Bottom Road, a secluded, gravel, dead-end road off of Smithtown Road which runs behind Ashton Estates. 

Mucciola painted a mental picture of how the victim had scrapes on his back where he was run over by a truck, and two gunshot wounds – one through the back of his head and a second to the shoulder.  

A cell phone was found in his back pocket, she said, but investigators would come to learn the phone was not Moore’s. It instead belonged to Eppes. 

She stated the prosecution will show that Moore’s choice to take fentanyl from “Ghost” ultimately cost him his life and geolocation data will show the movements of his killers that night. 

Defense Attorney Christopher Wilson opened asking the jury not to jump to conclusions and wait until they hear all of the evidence and testimony in the case, before they make a decision on what happened May 6-7, 2022. 

Jurors first heard testimony from Sgt. Brad Broker of the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department. Broker was one of the deputies who responded to the initial call and established facts about the scene that morning including verifying photographs of Moore’s body and the scrape marks found on his back, He also said two shell casings were found by detectives who were called to the scene. 

Other witnesses included the man who found Moore’s body in the road that morning and several who established the authenticity of various security footage and still photos from a home near the scene and several businesses in the area. 

Expert witness Kayla Lamb, a forensic scientist with West Virginia State Police, works with firearms and tool marking analysis. She testified that microscopic comparisons of class and individual characteristics of the two Aguila brand 9mm shell casings found on the scene determined they were fired from the same firearm. 

A fired bullet was also recovered and analyzed to determine the type(s) of weapon the bullet could have been fired from. Lamb said there were seven total firearms that could have fired the bullet – all were Glocks. 

Prosecutors Mucciola and Asst. Prosecutor Brandon Benchoff gave the jury a glimpse of what the lives of those living with addiction might look like by calling witnesses. Moore’s fiancée said although he desperately wanted to get clean, he had begun selling drugs and “ripping people off” to pay for his addiction. Moore had told her he was going to meet “Ghost” to get drugs. She stated that it had come to her attention that Moore owed Eppes money, but Moore had told her “everything is going to be OK.” 

The jury also heard from a friend of Moore’s who allowed Eppes to stay at her home for a short period as a favor to Moore. Messages from her to Moore showed Eppes eventually left her home but came back looking for Moore who owed him money. She said after she was unable to contact Moore, Eppes threatened her and her family, so she contacted a long-time friend named Arlo Romano. 

Romano, 44, was a co-defendant in the case and pleaded guilty last week to a lesser charge of second-degree murder with kidnapping and conspiracy charges being dropped. He was the final witness called during Wednesday’s proceedings and stated he finally decided to admit to his role in the murder because “it was the right thing to do … it’s just been long enough.” 

Romano, who has not been sentenced at this time, told his version of the events that happened leading up to, during and following Moore’s murder. Moore had been his friend for 20 years. 

He said after receiving multiple calls from Eppes, he agreed to help him find Moore. The two met at the Enterprise Truck Rental on Asturias Lane near Walmart and Sheetz, where he had already reserved a rental of a white Dodge Ram. 

Romano said they drove around for a while waiting for Moore to respond and he learned that Moore had robbed Eppes of a considerable amount of money or drugs – around $30,000 to his understanding. Romano, who also struggled with addiction, said he was of the understanding he would receive half that amount if he helped Eppes locate Moore. 

Romano appeared to tear up a bit saying, “choices I made were obviously wrong. I didn’t realize things would turn out the way they did.” 

Romano said he messaged Moore telling him he had a robbery he needed help with, and Moore responded he was at a home on White Avenue. 

Prior to locating Moore, Romano said Eppes asked him to locate a gun, but eventually was talked into giving him his own loaded Glock 9mm. 

At the White Avenue residence, Eppes returned to the truck with Moore, forcing him into the front passenger’s seat. Romano said Eppes held them both at gunpoint from the back seat. He then told Romano to drive to “the middle of nowhere” to make Moore walk home. 

Knowing Eppes was not from the area, Romano said he went to Round Bottom Road because it looks remote, but is fairly close to town and wouldn’t be a far walk for Moore. He claimed he did not know Moore would not be walking home that night until he saw a muzzle flash outside the truck after Eppes told Moore to get out. He believed Eppes exited the truck to move to the front seat until he saw the flash. 

The scene in the courtroom became emotional when Mucciola asked Romano, “Did you see Matt?” 

Romano replied, “I saw him fall forward,” while choking back tears. Moore’s family members in the audience gasped and were audibly sobbing. 

“Did you see Matt again?” Mucciola asked. 

“No ma’am,” he replied. 

Romano said Eppes returned to the truck and told him to drive – Moore’s body going under the truck as they drove away. After about 20 feet he said Eppes told him to stop. He then got back out and shot Moore one more time. 

Romano also stated in his testimony that Eppes had two phones throughout and took Moore’s phone to search it for information on his dealings. Romano’s explanation for how Moore ended up with Eppes’ phone was that one of Eppes’ phones was on the dash of the truck and it may have fallen off in a sharp turn. 

He said he had to drive Eppes back to a hotel in Bridgeport following the murder and he believed Eppes threw Moore’s phone out of the window somewhere near the Saltwell Road exit on Interstate 79. 

Defense attorney Wilson pointed out that Romano did not make a guilty plea until last week and alluded to possible future claims by the defense asking Romano about a code word or code phrase that meant the murder was on, and whether he knew if Moore had urinated in the front seat of the truck.  

Romano, who appeared a bit combative throughout Wilson’s cross-examination, said he had no knowledge of either. Nothing further was said regarding either question. 

Testimony will continue on Thursday with Romano’s girlfriend, who is said to have been witness to some of the events leading up to and after the murder. Also slated to testify are the medical examiner, Eppes’ cellmate following his arrest and Detective Sgt. Stephen Currie with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department. 

The trial is set to continue through the week and possibly into Monday.