The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 20, 2013

UPDATE: Trooper trial in hands of jury

By Karen Middleton
For The News Courier

— Both sides in the criminal trial of Alabama State Trooper Heath Moss in the rear-end collision deaths of a Tanner couple rested at midafternoon Wednesday and the nine- woman, three-man jury went out at 3:30 p.m.

However, at 4:45 p.m., jurors requested to be released for the night without a verdict and resume deliberations Thursday at 9 a.m.

Moss, who was answering another wreck call in which it was reported a small child had suffered head injuries, was traveling from 106 to 120 mph 3 seconds before he struck the rear left corner of a 1995 Mitsubishi Mirage, causing the death of Jamie Lee Gossett, 31, and Sarah Rene Gossett, 38.

Jurors deliberate whether Moss, 31, is guilty or innocent of two misdemeanor charges of criminally negligent homicide.

Criminally negligent homicide is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in the county jail. Moss is currently assigned to administrative duties at the Alabama State Troopers office in Huntsville.

Dr. Stephen Boudreau, senior state medical examiner and director of the state forensic lab in Montgomery, testified both of the Gossetts died of “extremely similar” blunt force trauma injuries, which involved broken backs, nearly all ribs fractured, ruptured spleens, and lacerated livers.

The Gossett vehicle traveled 148 feet after being struck in the rear left corner by Moss’s 2004 Crown Victoria. It then left the roadway and traveled along the shoulder and ditch of southbound Lucas Ferry Road, flipped and came to rest on its top at the edge of a wheat field, according to reports.

Moments later the fuel line of the Gossett vehicle ruptured and the car exploded. The Gossetts were both burned beyond recognition. Boudreau said Jamie Gossett was already dead before the car erupted in flames because no soot was found in his airways and no products of combustion in his blood. However, Sarah Gossett’s body was found to have soot in the airways, meaning she survived for short moments.

The state rested its case after the medical examiner’s testimony, whereupon Moss’s attorneys, Jim Wooley and Gary Hetzel of Birmingham, made a motion for a directed verdict of not guilty from the bench because they said that District Attorney Brian Jones had not met the standard of criminal negligence through testimony of any of the prosecution witnesses.

“There was not one question asked, ‘Does this rise to the level of gross negligence?’” said Wooley. “He had the opportunity to ask and he never did.”

Circuit Judge Robert Baker denied the defense motion.

Next, Wooley called Moss to the stand in his own defense, noting to the jury that Moss voluntarily took the stand. Defendants have a constitutional right not to testify in their own behalf.

Moss, who is himself a trained traffic homicide investigator, has been an Alabama state trooper for seven years, he said. He is also a petty officer in the Navy Reserve, an Elkmont Volunteer Fire Department firefighter, married and the father of three young children.

He told jurors he intended to become an attorney, but after serving a stint as a sheriff’s deputy, decided he loved law enforcement and trained his sights on becoming a trooper because he wanted to “give back” to society and help people.

Under defense questioning he denied having been distracted that day by operating three radios in his patrol car, texting, talking on his cellphone or looking at his computer screen.

He said the day of the wreck on April 25, 2011, he was headed south on Lucas Ferry Road, but denied knowing just how fast he was going. He said he saw the Gossett car ahead of him and decelerated, swung to the left lane to pass them, but seconds before the collision saw the Gossett car veer into the left-hand lane as if attempting to make a left-hand turn onto East Moyers Road.

“I stepped hard on the brake and swerved to the right,” Moss testified. “I wanted to minimize damage. I knew we were going to crash but I didn’t want to hit them.”

Moss said that there is never a day that passes that he doesn’t think about the wreck.

“Every time I close my eyes I see the wreck,” he said. “I am so sorry and I pray for their family and loved ones every day. I tried all I could to avoid them. I never, never want to hurt people. I’m here to help. If I could take their place I would. I would do everything in my power not to have had this happen.”

In the state’s closing argument, Jones said Moss’s actions met all the criteria of criminally negligent homicide in that two people are dead, being struck by Moss caused their deaths and that as a trooper he, like any reasonable person, should have known the risk of driving that fast.

Wooley in his closing argument said Moss’s actions lived up to state trooper standards and he did not do anything wrong.

Court is to reconvene for further jury deliberations at 9 a.m. Thursday.