The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 25, 2012

Slain man’s girlfriend seeks justice

By Jean Cole
jean@athensnews-courier.com

— Brandon Hydrick and Bronwen Murray met about a year ago at a charity run.

Brandon, an avid runner and outdoorsman, was participating in the UPC Krispy Kreme 5K, and Bronwen was handing out T-shirts to the winners.

The two didn’t know each other but they had a mutual friend at the event.

“I needed a date that night to the Margarita Ball, which supports Toys For Tots, and Brandon agreed to go with me. So, it was kind of a blind date.”

The two dated casually at first, but within a few months they were serious about each other.

“We were inseparable, always going everywhere together,” Bronwen said. “Canoeing on Piney Creek, hiking with the dog or catching a movie at the Athens drive-in, it didn’t matter, we were in love and had fun, whatever we did, wherever we went together.”

The couple had been together about a year when one indelible moment shattered their bliss.

The shooting

Hydrick, 26, died in a pickup truck driven by his 25-year-old brother, Ryan, on Sept. 29 in southern Limestone County. The brothers had been roasting hot dogs and marshmallows at a Piney Creek campsite with some friends on land owned by the Murrays. They were driving home in the early morning hours, when they got lost in the Fennell Road area and stopped. Joel Patrick Moyers, 52, was living on Fennell Road in a mobile home owned by his mother. Moyers saw the Hydrick truck, thought it looked suspicious, grabbed his AK-47 assault rifle and a flashlight and walked toward the pickup. As Ryan drove toward Moyers, Moyers tried to get the occupants to stop so he could get a tag number. Realizing Moyers was armed, Ryan continued past him.  Moyers then fired a single “warning shot” into the air, he told investigators. However the shot, which investigators said was not fired into the air, struck the truck’s tailgate, penetrated the cab, pierced the back seat and killed Brandon.

The aftermath

Bronwen is comfortable telling people how the loss has affected her and her family.

“Brandon’s murder has changed my life in so many ways. There are the immediate ones — grieving, crying, not being able to eat, sleep, or work,” she said. “Visits to the doctor for medication and bi-weekly sessions with a psychotherapist.”

Along with the sadness, she said, there is also anger.

“If the alleged murderer had not the access to such a powerful weapon, Brandon may have lived,” she said.

She said it breaks her heart that the shooter will be allowed to spend Christmas and New Year’s holidays “in the company of loved ones in a vacation home on Smith Lake.”

Moyers was freed after posting bail of $260,000, and is now living with his mother in Cullman.

As for the Hydrick family, there will be an empty chair at their home during the holidays where their son Brandon should be.

Bronwen cannot help wondering what might have been.

“The thing that grieves me most — that makes me sob when I try to sleep at night, is the love that was stolen from me,” Bronwen said. “If Brandon were alive we would have kissed at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Maybe we would have traveled together outside of the country, something he had never done. Who knows, it could be that Brandon and I were meant to be together, raise a happy beautiful family, laugh together, grow old and wrinkly together.”

Murder or capital murder?

Bronwen and her family have channeled their loss into a campaign to get the maximum sentence for Moyers. Through social media, they are telling the story and asking others to pressure the Limestone County District Attorney’s Office to seek a capital murder charge against Moyers. Currently he is charged with murder.

The difference in the charges would come in the sentencing phase, if the accused were convicted. Capital murder is punishable by a sentence of either life in prison without the possibility of parole or a death sentence. In contrast, a murder charge is punishable by 20 years to life in prison — whatever a judge deems suitable upon conviction. 

The Murray family believes the district attorney should move to charge Moyers with capital murder rather than let a grand jury decide whether the charge should remain the same, be upgraded or even downgraded. They are motivated, in part, by fear. Fear that a grand jury would either decide not to upgrade the charge against Moyers or, what would be worse in their eyes, downgrade his charge.

“What is preventing the district attorney from charging the defendant with capital murder?” said T.D. Murray, Bronwen’s father. “Does he feel that his office is not capable of trying a capital murder case? That they do not have the necessary experience? If so he should request that the attorney general’s office take over the case. Is it incompetence or inexperience that is causing the district attorney to resist the capital murder charge? Or is there something less obvious motivating him?”

According to the Alabama criminal code, one of the definitions of capital murder is murder committed by or through the use of a deadly weapon while the victim is in a vehicle.

T.D. said the evidence supports capital murder.

“The defendant first claimed that he shot into the ground,” T.D. said. “Then, after the sheriff’s deputies arrived, he claimed that he had shot into the air. The sheriff and the district attorney did not believe the story from the very beginning, because their visual inspection showed that the bullet had gone through the tailgate of the truck, through the wall of the truck, into the cab and into Brandon’s back. Obviously, the defendant had aimed directly at the truck. Therefore, the defendant should have been charged with capital murder.”

T.D. said the district attorney initially told the family that Moyers would be charged with capital murder.

“The district attorney stated the morning of the murder that the charge would be capital murder,” T.D. said. “But within a half an hour, he reduced the charge to reckless murder.”

T.D. said he and his family have discussed the case with numerous legal professionals, including assistant district attorneys, a former district attorney and several criminal lawyers.

“Each and everyone of them agrees that the charge against the defendant should be capital murder,” he said.

No bail

If Moyers were charged with capital murder, a judge would have the option of setting bail or jailing the accused without bail until the trial. Although the Murray family believes Moyers should not be allowed freedom before his trial, judges usually set bail, even in capital murder cases.

“The district attorney has already argued to the court that the defendant is a danger to the community,” T.D. noted. “The defendant would remain in jail for the two or more years it will take for his case to come to trial. He would not be vacationing in luxury at Smith Lake. Back in jail is as it should be, given the circumstances of this murder.”

District attorney’s view

District Attorney Brian Jones told The News Courier in October he could include capital murder as one of the possible options for charges when he presents the case to a grand jury.

Because the case will soon be presented to a grand jury, Jones said Friday he could not discuss what the options would be. However, he gave no indication he has ruled out capital murder.

“Right now, I cannot comment on capital murder being an option while the case is still under investigation,” Jones said. “Capital murder is the most serious charge I can levy against a defendant. It is not something that I do lightly or on a whim. The only potential punishments are life in prison without the possibility of parole or death. I have to be as thorough as possible and have all my ducks in a row before I charge a defendant with this charge. I do not want to rush out, willy nilly, and file charges before an investigation or DFS analyses are finished and end up with a potential flaw in my prosecution.”

He pointed out a similar case in which Lamar Anderson, who is accused in the blunt-force trauma death of estranged girlfriend Wendy Defoe Bond, was initially charged with murder before the charge was upgraded to capital murder.

“During the early stages of that investigation, capital murder-rape charges were discussed,” he said. “We did not want to jump the gun, and Anderson was charged with murder until such time as the investigation and DFS forensic testing were complete. After the case was fully investigated, it was very apparent that rape was not a proper charge and the grand jury indicted Anderson on capital murder-burglary and the case is pending trial.”

The Murray family fears that if the decision about the charge is left to a grand jury, it may not upgrade the charge to capital murder or, worse, that it might downgrade the charge if given that option. T.D. is urging people to call or email the assistant district attorney, who will help prosecute Moyers, to express support for a capital murder charge.

The Bronwen campaign

See Bronwen’s online resources at www.BrandonHydrick.com. Go to her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/JusticeForBrandon. Or, see her Twitter account @Justice4Brandon and a blog at tinyurl.com/justice4brandon.