Cops and Courts

Murder suspect takes stand in own defense, claims alibi

The fate of Cleotis Eppes, 49, the Detroit area man accused in the May 2022 murder of Matthew Moore, now lies in the hands of the 12 men and women of the jury as they begin their deliberations Tuesday morning at the Monongalia County Justice Center. Eppes is charged with murder in the first degree, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder and/or kidnapping. 

Last week, Monongalia County Prosecutor Gabrielle “Gabe” Mucciola and Assistant Prosecutor Brandon Benchoff laid out a timeline of events using cellphone text and call records, geolocations, security footage and witness testimony leading up to the murder of Moore in early May 7, 2022, on Round Bottom Road, off Smithtown Road. 

The jury heard co-defendant Arlo Romano’s version of what happened that night during the first day of testimony on March 6. Romano claims that he was present for the murder of Moore and it was his Glock 9mm handgun that fired two shots into his friend of 20 years, but he did not know Eppes was going to kill Moore until he pulled the trigger. 

On Monday, Eppes took the stand in his own defense, telling the court a similar story to that of Romano with one major difference – Romano may have been there, but Eppes claims he was not. 

The key piece of evidence linking Eppes to the crime is a cell phone found in Moore’s back pocket. Upon searching the phone, investigators discovered it was one of two phones belonging to Eppes. 

Eppes admitted that he was in business with Moore and provided him with drugs to sell, but Moore had come up short on money in the past. Eppes said he knew he was in business with someone who used the drugs he sold and that shortages were expected when dealing with him. 

At the suggestion of another of Moore’s friend, Eppes enlisted Romano to help track down Moore because the victim owed him a fairly large sum of money for drugs.    

After renting a white Dodge Ram from Enterprise – something Romano said he had already planned to do before Eppes contacted him – the men can be seen on camera leaving Sheetz together in the truck. 

Eppes and Romano, who said they met once prior to May 6, 2022, then drove around Morgantown for the next several hours, waiting for Moore to contact them. 

Detective Stephen Currie with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department was able to obtain geolocation data from Google and AT&T and tracked both of Eppes’ phones, Romano’s phone, and eventually Moore’s as they drove to various locations that evening.  

The men’s phones were shown located together in the area of Round Bottom Road around the time of Moore’s murder. One of Eppes’ phones doesn’t move from that location again. 

In his account, Eppes said that when they finally heard from Moore, Romano said Eppes couldn’t go with him because the home’s owner didn’t like strangers coming around. He said Romano then dropped him off at an apartment while he went to get Moore. Not being from the area, Eppes couldn’t say where the apartment was, or who lived there. 

Romano had left before he realized that he had left both of his phones in the truck, Eppes testified. Romano returned a little while later saying he didn’t find Moore, but was acting strangely. Shortly after, Eppes realized one of his phones was missing from the truck. 

Defense Attorney Christopher Wilson pointed out that up until midnight, Eppes was in semi-constant communication with a companion who came with him from Michigan, but from then until around 1:20 a.m. his phone was not used at all – because he didn’t have it, he claimed. Romano was still using his phone, however. 

Mucciola said she didn’t buy Eppes’ “apartment hiatus” story and asked why this was the first time anyone had heard this version, pointing out he had changed his story to detectives several times. She also alleged Eppes was likely not on his phone during that period because “he was busy” kidnapping and murdering Moore. 

Romano accepted a plea agreement two weeks ago, prior to the start of the trial. The kidnapping and conspiracy charges were dropped, and he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, which holds a maximum penalty of 40 years compared to a life sentence for first-degree murder. 

Attorneys finished their closing arguments in the case Monday evening and now the jury must decide if there is reasonable doubt Eppes killed Moore. 

Should he be convicted, the jury will also be tasked with deciding whether they will grant mercy, or a chance for eventual parole.