It took a Gwinnett County jury less than three hours on Monday to convict Tiffany Moss of murder and several other charges for starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter, Emani Moss, to death.
On Tuesday, just after 10 a.m., the jurors delivered their sentence: death by lethal injection.
The sentence comes as a victory — albeit not necessarily a joyful one — for Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who announced his intent to seek the death penalty early on in the case.
"I think the jury made the correct decision, otherwise we wouldn't have argued it, we wouldn't have sought the death penalty," he said. "There's never any great joy in one of these cases; we presented the case we had, and the case itself is one of the worst cases I've had in my experience. I think the jury saw that."
Moss was convicted, on the fourth day of the trial, of all six charges brought against her: one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of first degree cruelty to children and one count of concealing the death of another.
In keeping with her lack of vocalization through the trial, in which she did not present any defense and made no attempt to cross-examine any witnesses, Moss sat quietly as Gwinnett County Superior Court Chief Judge George Hutchinson read the verdict Monday afternoon.
She continued in the same vein Tuesday morning, remaining expressionless when, shortly after 10 a.m., the judge read the jury's recommended sentence of death by lethal injection. Hutchinson imposed the sentence shortly after, setting the date of execution to a seven day period between noon on June 7 and June 14 of this year.
Under Georgia law, all death sentences undergo a mandatory review by the Georgia Supreme Court, meaning there is "no chance" Moss will be put to death this year, Porter said.
A heinous crime
While Moss sat silently through the five-day trial, Porter and Chief Assistant District Attorney Lisa Jones told the story of an evil stepmother who wanted to be rid of her stepdaughter.
"Emani was nothing (to Moss); she was a nuisance, she was ugly, she was nothing," Jones said during closing arguments on Monday. "She was a pain, she was disposable, she was trash."
Through testimony from 18 witnesses, Porter and Jones impressed upon the jury just how heinous the crimes against Emani were, beginning with abuse in 2010 when Moss struck Emani with a brown leather belt over and over again, sometimes with the buckle side.
Moss, who pleaded guilty to child cruelty at the time, was given probation, though it apparently had no effect on her, given three-and-a-half years later, she starved Emani to death — a slow and painful process, Porter reminded the jury on Monday.
"In the final witness called by the state, (Medical Examiner) Dr. (Michele) Stauffenberg talked about features of starvation and the sequence of starvation," Porter said. "The first phase is there's a loss of well-being, hunger pains and food cravings. The second stage is apathy and fatigue and weight loss, pigmentation changes in the skin ... a feral look, hypothermia. (Then) extreme lethargy and mental retardation, nutritional edema, immune suppression, infection, diarrhea and death."
As if the process of being starved to death was not horrific enough, Porter and Jones emphasized throughout the trial, once Emani finally died, Moss and her husband, Eman Moss, put the girl in a computer room for a day or two before disposing of her body.
When they were ready to rid themselves of the child, Eman Moss bought a galvanized trash can, but because Emani's body had gone into rigor mortis, he and Moss had to break down her body — Eman Moss testified on Thursday that the noises Emani's body made as they duct taped her were "cracking sounds" — until they managed to fit the girl into the metal can.
From there, they took her to a wooded area, doused her in kerosene and set her aflame. When they realized her body wouldn't burn as they wanted her to, they extinguished the fire, put the the trash can in the trunk of the car and drove home.
Eman Moss drove to and from his two jobs the following day before finally calling 911, while Moss took off with the couple's two younger children. She ultimately turned herself in to police.
'The evil that is within her'
In asking the jury to render a death sentence to Moss on Monday, Porter said the 35-year-old was the mastermind behind Emani's death.
"Eman came in, he pled guilty, he's serving a sentence of life without parole. ... Is Eman a hero? No, Ms. Jones said it exactly right: he's a murderer. He was part of it, but his part was neglect. (Moss') part was intention," Porter said. "When you really look at it, do you think that fool Eman could have really come up with this plan? Do you really think he was the brains of the outfit? No, he wasn't. He was seduced and enamoured and under the influence of this defendant to the extent to which he was willing to turn his eyes away from his own child, and he was willing to go along with this horrendous scheme to dispose of that baby."
Because of that, Porter charged the jury, they should return a sentence of death — not life with the possibility of parole.
"When you think about (life with the possibility of parole), let me ask you this: do you think she's going to change? Do you think she's going to rehabilitate?" Porter asked. "The answer to that is no. She's shown you too much of herself, she's shown you too much of the evil that is within her ... there will always be that dark side, waiting to come out."
Porter made a similar argument against life without parole, saying many people think sitting in jail with no release would be worse than death.
"But that's you and me; she's not wired that way," Porter said. "She doesn't have that conscience, and the reason I can say that with such confidence is the nature of the crime. Who in the world conceives of, and executes, a plan to starve a 10-year-old child to death? Think about that."
The only option, Porter said, and ultimately convinced the jury of, was death.
"What this defendant has really done is she has woken up every day since September of 2013 when they moved into the apartment and she's decided, 'I'm going to kill that baby,'" Porter said. "She woke up the next day and said, 'I'm going to take care of my kids, I'm going to take care of my house, I'm going to make sure there's food in the house, but I'm going to kill that baby. I'm going to kill Emani today.' For 60 days ... it was a cold, calculated, every day you wake up and you go, 'I'm going to kill her.'"
"Ladies and gentlemen, (Moss) isn't going to think about that, she's not going to suffer for that, because it didn't bother her for 60 days," Porter continued. "She decided Emani was going to die, she decided how it was going to happen and she made it happen. That is why I believe that this case does call for justice, this case does call for a sentence that speaks the truth as to punishment. I'm not going to say it's easy, but sometimes doing the right thing isn't easy."
First death sentence in five years
Moss' death sentence is the first in five years in the state of Georgia; the last time a jury imposed death was in March 2014 to Adrian Hargrove, an Augusta man who committed a triple murder.
While Porter and Jones applauded the jury's verdict and sentence, Moss' "standby counsel," Brad Gardner and Emily Gilbert, who were assigned to Moss from the State Office of the Capital Defender after the court granted her the right to represent herself in the capital trial, were visibly upset with the results.
"I think this ridiculous spectacle speaks for itself," Gilbert said after the court adjourned. "(We'll appeal); it'll be another whole team, plus us. There will probably be lawyers all over the country that want to help us with this."
Emani Moss' family — the child's grandmother and aunt, among other family members, sat through the trial — did not comment after the sentence, though conveyed, through Porter, that they were pleased with the verdict and sentence.
Porter and Jones said they too were satisfied, with Porter adding that he worried slightly when, Monday evening, the jury sent the note to Hutchinson saying they were at an impasse.
"I thought that (Moss) had outsmarted us, that she had come up with a brilliant legal strategy that it was going to be that these two big bullies had just punched her around for a week and that one juror would just say, 'You know, there just has to be something wrong with her, I can't give the death penalty,'" Porter said Tuesday. "I laid awake (Monday) night thinking about that and I'm sure Lisa did too. In hindsight now, the only rational explanation, and I'm not sure rational explanations work here, is that she was resigned to whatever was going to happen and she was going to make somebody else inflict that."
But Ken Driggs, a longtime capital defense attorney who sat through Moss' trial as a spectator, said there may be another explanation — brain damage Gilbert and Gardner allege she suffered, or mental illness.
"I was struck by the complete lack of emotion on her part at the verdict, and that strikes me as consistent with some mental health kind of issue, brain damage or something else," he said. "I mean, she's clearly not going to be executed on June 7; this thing is going to drag out for a long time."
Appeals of death penalty convictions often take decades, and even if Moss continues to represent herself and files no appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court's mandatory review guarantees it will be some time before she is executed.
The high court can either affirm the sentence or set it aside and remand the case for resentencing or other action, and it's almost never a quick process.