Jury selection is well underway in the trial against Tiffany Moss, a Lawrenceville woman accused of starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter to death and then burning the body before dumping the girl in a trash can.
As of the court’s adjournment Tuesday afternoon, more than two dozen potential jurors had appeared in Gwinnett County Superior Court Chief Judge George Hutchinson’s courtroom.
Jury selection began Monday morning for the death penalty trial, which is being prosecuted by Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter and Assistant District Attorney Lisa Jones.
Moss, whose trial comes five and a half years after she and her husband, Eman Moss, were arrested and charged with murder, cruelty to children and concealing the death of another in the murder of Emani Moss, is representing herself — something the District Attorney made a point of while questioning potential jurors about during the first two days of jury selection.
“The defendant has chosen to represent herself in this case. Does that have any effect on you, one way or another?” Porter asked one potential juror. “She has her constitutional right to do that; she absolutely can. Does that affect your decision as a juror?”
While most jurors answered the question with a “no” — several said they thought the decision was “unwise” — one particular woman Porter questioned had a more detailed response.
“I think it could,” she said. “If you’re defending yourself, I would think you’ve got a certain confidence and you’re able to defend yourself. Why now (though) do you have this confidence when possibly you didn’t before, when there was a circumstance when you couldn’t not defend yourself or stop something that was happening? If you’re confident enough to (represent yourself) now, why could you not have stopped possibly the death of someone, if you had that confidence, that willpower?”
Moss is accused of starving her stepdaughter to the point where the girl weighed only 32 pounds, the Daily Post previously reported.
The prosecution is expected to argue when the trial begins that after starving Emani Moss to death, Moss, alongside her husband, burned the girl’s body and left her in a dumpster outside their apartment complex.
Eman Moss pleaded guilty in 2015 for his role in his daughter’s death. At the time, his attorney said the man didn’t bring Emani Moss to the hospital in the weeks before she died because Tiffany Moss had previously been arrested for beating the girl.
The lawyer also claimed Eman Moss was unaware of the abuse and starvation his daughter endured, saying Tiffany Moss was responsible for taking care of Emani Moss while he was at work all day.
Eman Moss’ plea, in which he agreed to testify against Tiffany Moss if her case went to trial, spared him the death penalty — something Porter said he has offered Tiffany Moss.
But Moss has not only refused to accept a plea deal, she’s also refused to accept legal representation — something Hutchinson previously pleaded with the 35-year-old to accept.
However, Moss has remained steadfast in her decision, causing about a nine-month delay in her trial, which was initially slated for July 2018.
The trial was postponed while two lawyers from the state’s public defender system appealed a lower court’s decision allowing Moss to represent herself. The Georgia Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear the appeal, meaning Moss could go without outside legal representation.
The woman does have two standby defense attorneys, however, should she need to consult — something she did only once on Monday.
Moss otherwise remained largely quiet on the first day of jury selection, only asking very brief questions of several of the jurors. She appeared more confident and was more vocal during Tuesday’s jury selection.
‘Some disturbing evidence’
Over the first two days, Moss’ questions largely centered on the jurors’ ability to remain fair based on prior experiences — one potential juror said he and his wife had briefly discussed the case previously, while another had said on his juror questionnaire that he’d had an interaction with law enforcement that might affect his ability as a member of the jury — though she did ask one woman whether the evidence presented would affect her ability to be impartial.
“This case has a child victim, so ... there may be some very disturbing evidence that you see,” Moss said to the woman. “Would you still be able to be impartial to the defense, or would the fact that it’s a child victim with disturbing factors going into her alleged death be (an issue)?”
Porter and Jones asked similar questions of the potential jurors, while also ensuring that they understood a death penalty case is conducted in two phases.
“The people selected for the jury first have to find the defendant guilty of murder before it goes to the second (phase). Then, if (the jury) finds the defendant guilty, then you would move on to the next step,” Porter said to one juror. “Before you could consider any kind of punishment, you would have to find what the court calls an aggravating circumstance... It’s an additional fact that the state has to prove, other than just guilt. If the state proves guilt and if they prove the aggravating circumstance, then the jury gets to decide what the punishment is.”
Punishment for Moss, should she be found guilty, could be one of three options: life with the possibility of parole, life without the possibility of parole and death.
If she were to be given the death penalty, it would be the first in the state in more than half a decade; the last death sentence in Georgia was given to Adrian Hargrove in March 2014.
Jury selection is expected to continue through this week, Hutchinson said Monday. The trial will likely begin next week.