Court Spares Life Of Woman Convicted In Death Of Tortured Girl
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ The state Supreme Court has spared New Jersey’s only female death-row inmate, ruling she was not directly to blame for the death of her goddaughter, whose last months were spent in torture chained to a bathtub.
Marie Moore, 42, of Paterson had been on death row since November 1984, when she was convicted of first-degree murder for the death of Theresa Feury, an orphan who came to live with Ms. Moore.
The girl died at age 13 in January 1983 of head injuries suffered when she hit her head on the bathtub to which she was chained every night. The girl’s mummified body was found the following December in an attic crawl space in Ms. Moore’s house.
The Supreme Court vacated Ms. Moore’s death sentence Wednesday and ordered a new trial on the murder charge. It did not disturb her Passaic County Superior Court convictions for kidnapping, attempted murder, terroristic threats and aggravated assault for which she is serving 87 1/2 years without eligibility for parole.
The ruling was the first time the court found the death penalty was improperly applied. Ms. Moore was the sole woman on New Jersey’s death row.
″We’re pleased with the decision,″ said Roy Greenman, an attorney who represented Ms. Moore.
Greenman applauded the court’s finding that the lower court erred in failing to have jurors consider the lesser charges of manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter.
Joseph Falcone, the Passaic County prosecutor at the time and now a Superior Court judge in Essex County, declined to comment. Passaic County Prosecutor Ronald Fava also declined to comment, saying he had not had time to digest the opinion.
In an interview with The Associated Press in 1985, Ms. Moore, a former hairdresser and telephone operator, said she had become a fundamentalist Christian while in prison.
The court ruled that ″if the medical evidence established that Theresa Feury’s death was caused by starvation or her weakened medical condition, or by asphyxiation resulting from her being wrapped and stuffed in a crawl space while alive, we would agree with the state that a jury could find that Moore by her own conduct caused Theresa’s death.″
″The medical evidence presented in this record, however, does not support that finding. According to the medical examiner, the victim died as a result of blows to the head and face caused by striking the tub,″ the court said. ″Marie Moore did not deal the victim those fatal blows.″
Court records show the girl fell against the tub after being lifted by Ricky Flores, a boy who began living with the family in the fall of 1981 when he was 14. Ricky became Ms. Moore’s enforcer and lover, according to the Supreme Court account.
Flores served two years in a juvenile facility after a plea bargain for his role in the girl’s death, Greenman said. The youth completed his sentence and was freed.
According to testimony at Ms. Moore’s trial, Theresa was starved, forced to wear disposable diapers and hanged from her thumbs.
Court records said the boy also was a victim of Ms. Moore’s attacks. Prosecutors said she met him and other victims through friendships they had developed with her own daughter, who also lived with the family.
During the trial, the defense introduced testimony from a psychiatrist that Ms. Moore suffered from psychological problems that diminished her capacity to control herself. She told the victims their punishments were ordered by a violent male she named ″Billy Joel.″
Authorities said Ms. Moore’s daughter was not a victim of abuse.