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Calling the mass murders of six people, including an unborn child, here in October 2012 the most “senseless and barbaric” act imaginable, Circuit Court Judge Forrest Durard sentenced Zakkawanda Moss to six consecutive life sentences Tuesday.
Those sentences collectively come to 360 years, amounting to 60 years for each life taken that October night. Dead at their hands are Warren Vincent Crutcher, 24; Amber McCaulley, 21; Chabreya Rael Campbell, 22, who was seven months pregnant with a baby girl; 16-month-old Rico Ragland; and Jessica Lee Brown, 21.
“We’re very pleased with the judge’s decision,” said District Attorney Robert Carter following the sentencing. “We had asked that these sentences run consecutively – one right after the other – and the families of the victims had asked it as well … We appreciate the judge’s efforts and consideration in doing what was right and just.”
Prior to the sentencing, the state provided a record of Moss’s former criminal activities. Moss had three prior felony convictions in Alabama for robbery, criminal conspiracy to commit robbery and possession of crack cocaine, according to evidence entered.
During the sentencing hearing, the state called several witnesses to the stand. Assistant District Attorney Ann Filer called the state’s first witness, Bridget McGraw Holdren, Moss’s former probation officer in Alabama. She testified that Moss violated probation by leaving Alabama without permission from the state, was involved in using illegal drugs and was engaged in drug activities.
Mothers of the female victims and grandmothers of the children killed described the personalities of their loved ones who were killed.
Patricia Strickland, mother of Amber McCaulley, said Amber loved to praise dance at her church. She taught youth Sunday school classes and loved her family, she continued, adding, “She was outgoing, loved people and was a great person.”
Amber worked at Toyota and then later worked at a nursing home. She was going to Virginia College to become a nurse, said her mother.
According to testimony, Amber had only been on a few dates with Warren Crutcher. It was after leaving Crutcher’s mother’s residence with Warren that she was shot in the head. Strickland has been caring for her granddaughter, Kynslee, since she was two months old, she said.
To the judge Strickland said, “Just keep him in jail – prison – so he won’t hurt anyone else.”
The next witness called was Shanea Sales, the mother of Chabreya Campbell and grandmother of “Baby Rico” and grandmother of “Nevaeh”, Chabreya’s unborn baby girl. Chabreya was seven months pregnant, and the baby died when her mother was killed. Sales said Chabreya was intelligent, loved helping other people, was family oriented and was also going to Virginia College to become a nursing assistant.
She was nearly finished with her education, Sales said, then describing Baby Rico as full of joy and energy. She spent two weeks with him and his brother little Vinnie before Baby Rico was viciously killed at 16 months of age.
“I would like to see separate sentences for each victim,” she said to the judge. “I want as much time as possible.”
Vicky Afisov, mother of Jessica Brown, took the stand and described her daughter as a hard worker. “She took care of herself and her family and cared about people,” Afisov said, adding that she cared about the people she took care of in the nursing home. She worked two jobs while she was pregnant to pay her bills, was a good person and liked spending time with her friends, she said. Her baby, Jayden, was two months old at the time of his mother’s murder. Jayden is now 16 months old.
“He will never know his mom,” said Filer.
Afisov stated to the judge, “I want the highest possible sentence … so he can never do this to any family again … He (Moss) should never be able to get out of prison.”
District Attorney Robert Carter called Charlayne Fountain to the stand. Fountain was Warren Crutcher’s aunt. She said she had a great relationship with her nephew, noting that he came to her house with little Vincent and Jaylen and had dinner with her. “He was a wonderful father, a great person, loved kids and would do anything for anyone.”
“He treated us all with great love – especially his sister,” Fountain continued, speaking on behalf of her family. She said Warren was ready to make a change. She said had urged him to get out of the drug business. “I said you’re either going to jail or going to be dead,” she stated, adding that Moss took each of the lives so mercilessly. Despite that, she said, “I forgave him, and pray for him.”
Speaking directly to Moss, Fountain, “You left them (Crutcher’s children) motherless and fatherless.”
“What he (Crutcher) did was not right … but he (Warren) was a good person … no one deserves to be killed, murdered, brutally abused and tortured.”
To the judge she said, “He should never see the light of day outside the prison walls — I think each victim deserves to have their own voice.”
The state called Special Agent Wayne Wesson to the stand. He did a walk through and was involved with the investigation of the murder scenes at the Huntsville Highway house and the Foxwood Drive house. He described the bodies of Amber McCauley, Baby Rico, Chabreya Campbell and Jessica Brown. He described how Chabreya and Jessica were face down in the bathtubs and had their hands bound behind their backs and the multiple ligatures around their necks. Amber was dumped in a utility room and Baby Rico lay in a pool of blood after being stomped to death, he said.
Sheriff Murray Blackwelder was the next witness. He went to all three crime scenes. Filer submitted photos of Warren Crutcher after he was shot three times in the back of the head. Blackwelder told the judge, “The victims have voices still. He (Moss) deserves the stiffest penalty the law will allow.” He called the murders vicious and said “they will affect generations to come”.
“I submit the defendant should be considered a dangerous offender,” Filer stated. “Consecutive sentences are necessary to protect the public. We submit six consecutive sentences are morally mandated.”
Defense Attorney Herschel Koger dismissed some of the testimony. “My position is the emotional component has nothing to do with this,” he said, referring to the state’s opening remarks. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions about this case.
“I’m submitting to the court that this case is not supported by facts,” he said, noting that a life sentence in Tennessee is no less than 51 years day for day. “He (Moss) is 36 years old. Fifty-one years will put him at 87 years old,” he stated. “It’s beyond life expectancy.”
After much consideration and research in like cases, the judge stated, “This is unthinkable barbarism,” going on to describe Moss as a dangerous offender and saying he had little hesitation to commit murder and no regard for human life. He said the defendant inflicted as much pain as possible on the victims. “The killing was a senseless and barbaric as I’ve ever seen,” said Durard.
Immediately after the hearing concluded, Koger filed for an appeal, which is a standard procedure in such cases, officials said.