The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 3, 2013

DA won’t seek death penalty

By Jean Cole

— The former girlfriend of a Limestone County murder victim says she disagrees with the district attorney’s decision not to seek the death penalty.

Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones has decided not to seek the death penalty in the case against a Cullman man accused of fatally shooting an Athens man with an assault rifle because he thought he seemed suspicious.

Jones filed a motion about 4 p.m. Thursday in Circuit Court stating his decision to seek life in prison but not the death penalty in the case against Joel Patrick Moyers. A Feb. 19 hearing has been set in the case.

Moyers, 52, is charged with capital murder, murder extreme indifference, and two counts of shooting into an occupied vehicle in connection with the Sept. 29 shooting of 26-year-old Brandon Hydrick.

Jones said the statue relating to seeking the death penalty requires a standard of murder that is “heinous, atrocious and cruel.”

“Every murder is brutal,” Jones said. “Every murder is a terrible act. But, when you compare them, some rise to the legal standard and some do not,” he said.

Jones said he met with the Hydrick family before making the decision and they were “OK with it.”

However, Bronwen Murray, the former girlfriend of Hydrick, said everyone in the family was not in agreement on foregoing the death penalty.

“The majority were, but not everyone,” she said. “District Attorney Jones did not ask for my input.”

She believes the family could have avoided a trial altogether and secured a life sentence without parole.

“I agree, life in prison without parole is a good outcome and, as I do not believe in the death penalty, it is an outcome I personally wished for,” Murray said. “However, this outcome could have been achieved quickly and with nearly 100 percent certainty if a plea deal — like the one offered to UAH shooter Amy Bishop — was given in order to avoid the death penalty.”

She believes Jones’ decision has brought much more uncertainty to the case.

“Now a trial and sentencing phase must take place,” she said. “Not only is trial by a jury precarious, but also sentencing by Alabama judges is a crapshoot as we are the only state in the country that allows override of jury verdicts by judges to impose capital punishment. If that happens, then the family will indeed be subjected to the lengthy appeals process.” 

Murray said a judge imposed the death penalty against the wishes of the jury in the case of Courtney Lockhart who shot and killed Auburn student Lauren Burke.

“In fact, 107 jury decisions have been overturned in Alabama capital cases by judges who impose the death sentence,” she said. “This outcome would be against the wishes of the Hydrick family. However, it is now a possibility … Brian Jones made the wrong call.”

The shooting

Brandon and his younger brother, Ryan, had been at a bonfire and marshmallow roast in the area with friends the morning of the shooting. While returning home, the brothers became lost and stopped on Fennell Lane. Moyers, who was living on Fennel Road in a mobile home owned by his mother at the time and believed the brothers were would-be criminals, walked to the area with his assault rifle and a flashlight. When Ryan drove past Moyers on Fennel Road and would not stop, Moyers fired what he called “a warning shot,” which struck the tailgate and pierced the cab, killing Brandon.

Moyers was free on bond after his initial arrest for murder. However, when a grand jury formally charged him with capital murder, his bail was revoked. He will remain in the Limestone County Jail until his trial.