Cops and Courts

Prosecution rests in Mon County murder trial – defense begins Monday

Prosecutors Gabrielle “Gabe” Mucciola and Brandon Benchoff rested their case Friday afternoon in the first-degree murder trial of Cleotis Eppes, confident they presented enough evidence over three days of testimony to meet the state’s burden of proof for a guilty verdict. 

Defense Attorney Christopher Wilson will begin direct examination of the defense’s witnesses beginning Monday morning. 

Eppes, along with Arlo Romano, is accused of conspiring to kidnap and murder Matthew Moore in May 2022 over an alleged drug debt the victim owed to Eppes. Romano accepted a plea agreement prior to the trial, pleading guilty to second degree murder. 

On Wednesday, Romano testified against Eppes, who he claims was the one who ultimately fired a bullet to the back of Moore’s head as well as his shoulder.  

In addition to Romano, jurors heard from people close to the victim who testified to events leading up to and after the murder, the man who discovered Moore’s body, and various individuals who confirmed the authenticity of security footage. Expert witnesses Kayla Lamb, employed by the West Virginia State Police as a forensic scientist working with firearms, and Dr. Thomas Young who works for the State of West Virginia Chief Medical Examiner and performed the autopsy of Moore’s body. 

On Thursday, a former cellmate of Eppes told his account of what he claims Eppes had told him 50-60 times during their week together in the Special Housing Unit at North Central Regional Jail. The cellmate gave very specific details about the case including exact times, small details about the rental truck Eppes and Romano were driving that night, and details regarding individuals the men encountered. 

Thursday afternoon into Friday, the jury heard the continued testimony of Detective Stephen Currie with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, who held the witness stand for around eight hours over two days. Currie was one of the detectives who investigated the murder and presented the evidence he obtained placing Eppes and Romano at the murder scene. 

Throughout his testimony, the detective explained how he used text and Facebook messages, cell phone call logs, security footage, license plate readers, vehicle rental documents, geolocation tracking and other methods to put together a motive and timeline of the events that occurred May 6, 2022, into the morning of May 7, 2022. Shell casings found at the scene, a bullet and fragments found with Moore’s body, and the undercarriage of the truck which ran over Moore’s body added to the evidence. 

Currie said the first major clue they discovered was a cell phone found in Moore’s back pocket which they initially assumed belonged to Moore. But during a search of the phone’s contents, detectives realized it actually belonged to Eppes and was associated with three different Gmail accounts. 

Currie explained that devices signed into a Google account can be tracked more accurately than others because Google stores a lot of location data gathered from cell towers, Wi-Fi connections and GPS signals, which it uses for advertising purposes. In some circumstances, he said, having Gmail on your phone is equivalent to having a tracker — and the data is fairly accurate. 

A second device allegedly belonging to Eppes was also discovered and able to be tracked using the Google data, giving Currie Eppes’ nearly exact locations from March through May. It showed one of the phones stayed at the Round Bottom Road location with Moore’s body, while the other begins moving again on the night of the murder. 

Neither Romano nor Moore were able to be tracked by Google data, but both used AT&T which provided cell tower records for the two phones. This gave Currie their general locations. The detective was then able to compare the three men’s locations and determined Eppes and Romano were together leading up to the murder, were together outside the residence where Moore was staying, and on Round Bottom Road where Moore was shot and killed. Many of these locations were verified by security footage of the two men and their associated vehicles. 

Through text messages between key individuals and interviews, Currie also discovered that Moore owed Eppes a large sum of money for drugs that he was not paying, and Eppes was angry and making threats to Moore’s friends. Prosecutors showed a cryptic text from Eppes to Moore saying, “You a real slimeball guy. Karma is real.” 

Currie also testified regarding the information given by Eppes’ cellmate, whom he interviewed twice, but recorded only once. The detective said he had already solved the case when he was contacted about the inmate wanting to speak with him and was not expecting much to come from the interview. At this point, the detective’s detailed narrative of the investigation had not been completed and the only documentation with any information on the case was on search warrants, which would have made it difficult for the information to be known. 

The cellmate, who is still incarcerated and was in prison at the time of murder, was able to tell the story with details only the detective, Eppes, and Romano could have known.  

In his testimony and during the interview with Currie, the cellmate also spoke of other things Eppes had told him like having connections to two drug cartels, being involved in human trafficking, and having access to underwater scuba gear with jet propulsion. 

Most of the information unrelated to the Moore murder Currie found to be unfounded, however one thing the inmate told him he was able to verify – information on a man who was left dead in a creek and a woman found dead in a cave, which he felt gave some credibility to his story. He clarified that Eppes was not thought to be involved in the other two deaths. 

Jurors will return Monday morning to hear the defense’s side of the case followed by closing statements from both sides. If they deliver a guilty verdict, they will also be tasked with deciding whether a chance for parole will be granted in the otherwise life sentence. 

The Honorable Paul W. Gwaltney is presiding.