The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 21, 2013

Trooper not guilty; victims' family promises lawsuit

By Karen Middleton
news@athensnews-courier.com

ATHENS —

Angry family members of the late Jamie Lee Gossett and Sara Rene Gossett vowed Thursday they will press on with a civil suit against Alabama State Trooper Heath Moss despite a Limestone County jury finding him not guilty on two counts of criminally negligent homicide.

They also vowed to campaign against the re-election of District Attorney Brian Jones because they say he “withheld evidence.”

Moss had been on trial since Monday in the deaths of the Gossetts, who died April 25, 2011, when Moss slammed into the back of their 1995 Mitsubishi Mirage on his way to answer another wreck call in which a child suffered head injuries.

Defense Attorney Jim Wooley said a conviction would have resulted in a “legal tsunami for law enforcement agencies and emergency responders.”

The wreck occurred on Lucas Ferry at Moyers roads as the Gossetts were on their way to Tanner High School to pick up an ill daughter.

The case went to the jury at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The nine-woman, three-man jury deliberated for 1 hour, 45 minutes before sending a request to Circuit Court Judge Robert Baker to break for the night and resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The jury sent word at 10:35 a.m. Thursday that they had a verdict. When Baker polled the jury, all 12 members affirmed that it was their vote that Moss was not guilty on both counts.

Before the jury returned, Baker told those in the courtroom that he realized the emotional impact of the case, but he would not tolerate any kind of outburst from either side and he would not hesitate to have anyone arrested if they caused a disturbance in his courtroom.

Relief at the defense table was unmistakable as the verdict was read. Moss seemed to physically sag against his attorneys and wife.

The victims’ family, filling two front rows on the opposite side of the courtroom, issued an audible intake of their breathing and reached to embrace those sitting on either side of them.

“This was a case where there were no winners,” said Jones outside his office a few moments later. “Jamie and Sarah would still be dead even if he had been found guilty.

“This was a complicated case. We had our day in court and 12 citizens have spoken … we present our facts as the law is written. We present it to a jury, and that is why we have a jury system.”

Outside the courthouse, Gossett family members gathered to express their dismay at the ruling.

“It was an unjust ruling,” said Jamie Gossett’s father, Robert Gossett. “Two people are dead and we have got to live with it.”

Jamie Gossett’s oldest brother, Joe Gossett, said he is a professional driver. “Why are troopers not held to a higher standard than I am?” he questioned.

Regina Gossett Mabrey, Jamie’s sister, said the family’s attorney in the civil suit they have pending against Moss had requested an independent investigator to investigate the wreck rather than the state trooper vehicle homicide investigators, who testified to their findings in the trial.

“Brian Jones works for the state,” said Mabrey. “We requested for an independent to do the investigation and all we got was troopers. They protect their own.”

Another brother, Travis Gossett, displayed the readout that he said was downloaded from the so-called “black boxes” of Moss’s 2004 Ford Crown Victoria patrol car to a Crash Data Retrieval program.

He pointed to an entry that showed Moss applied his brakes 2.8 seconds before impact. But contrary to testimony by state trooper investigators, the CDR readout showed that 20 seconds from impact Moss was traveling at 106 mph, and 3 seconds out he was traveling at 120 mph. He said the report shows acceleration rather than a deceleration, as was testified.

“This will all be brought out when [Jones] is up for re-election,” said Travis Gossett. “I hope Jones is enjoying his job now because we’re going to make sure he is not re-elected.”

“It doesn’t matter what badge you’re wearing,” added Mabrey. “In no situation should you be going 120 miles per hour.”

Mabrey said Moss’s emotional apology from the stand on Wednesday, “comes 2 ½ years too late.”

Moss declined comment.

“We’re still in civil litigation,” said Moss. “I have been told to refer all comments to my attorneys. I am going home to be with and enjoy my family.”

Wooley said it is also Department of Public Safety policy for its employees to withhold comment and refer to attorneys.

“We are pleased,” said Wooley of the verdict. “It was not that unexpected, given the totality of evidence. We are sorry for the Gossetts and for Heath’s family. [The verdict]  was only proper and just. It was a tragic accident, but it did not rise to the level of criminal negligence.

“Heath is a caring, Christian, kind man with children and all he ever wanted to do was serve.”

He said Birmingham attorney Rad Gaines is representing Moss in the civil suit.

Wooley also said that a guilty verdict would have had all law enforcement officers and emergency responders “second-guessing themselves and the public Monday morning arm chair quarterbacking their every move.”