North Carolina

Prosecutor told the jury that Blanche Taylor Moore got caught because she outsmarted herself

Blanche Taylor Moore seen in a 1997 photo during a hearing.  Moore is on N.C.'s death row for poisoning her boyfriend with arsenic more than three decades ago.
Blanche Taylor Moore seen in a 1997 photo during a hearing. Moore is on N.C.'s death row for poisoning her boyfriend with arsenic more than three decades ago. Winston-Salem Journal

Jurors who will decide the fate of Blanche Taylor Moore were told by a prosecutor Tuesday that the ghost of Mrs. Moore's alleged victim, Raymond C. Reid, was in the courtroom demanding justice.

In her closing argument before the jury began deliberating, Assistant District Attorney Janet H. Branch said the evidence against Mrs. Moore "has taken on a life of its own and has become a spirit, a living spirit in this courtroom surrounding us all."

Ms. Branch then turned from the jury and walked to Mrs. Moore and stared into her face.

"All of those spirits turn to the defendant and say, 'It's you, it's you, it's you who is guilty.' And out of this drone of spirits steps the ghost of Raymond Reid and he steps over to the defendant and he says, 'Blanche, you murdered me and all I ever did was love you. Why did you murder me?'"

Mrs. Moore stared back, seeming slightly startled.

Jurors deliberated for more than 5 1/2 hours Tuesday. At 5 p.m., the jury foreman announced that the panel needed more time to deliberate. Deliberations will begin again at 9:30 a.m. today.

Ms. Branch also quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said: "It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time. You can even fool some of the people all of the time. But you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

Ms. Branch said that over the years, Mrs. Moore had been able to fool at least three men in her life: James N. Taylor, her first husband; the Rev. Dwight W. Moore, her second husband; and Mr. Reid, her longtime boyfriend. Mrs. Moore, 57, is on trial for first-degree murder in the 1986 arsenic-poisoning death of Mr. Reid.

Ms. Branch noted similarities among the three men, saying they were all in love with the defendant and they all had depended on her for companionship and care.

"All of them sick, two of them dead, all of them full of the same substance. All of them victims."

Then, turning to Mrs. Moore at the defense table in a moment of drama unusual in the five-week-old trial, Ms. Branch gestured with open arms and said, "Blanche Taylor, this is your life."

Ms. Branch spoke at length on Mrs. Moore's main line of defense, a letter bearing the name of Garvin Thomas confessing to the crimes. The letter was received by Mrs. Moore at the Alamance County Jail days after the death of Mr. Thomas.

In the five-page missive, the writer claimed responsibility for the poisonings, described as the acts of a jealous man who had loved Mrs. Moore from afar for many years and could not bear for her to be with another. In her argument, Ms. Branch recalled testimony by a handwriting analyst for the State Bureau of Investigation who found unusual likenesses in the writing in the Garvin Thomas letter and in 44 letters written by Mrs. Moore to a friend.

Ms. Branch noted that before the letter was received at the jail, Mr. Thomas had visited the office of Mrs. Moore's attorney, Mitchell McEntire of Burlington. Mr. Thomas had said he needed to right some wrongs, according to Mr. McEntire. But no statement was taken from him and he was, Mr. McEntire said later, "Politely shown to the door."

"If Mr. McEntire didn't put any stock in Garvin Thomas, why should you?" Ms. Branch asked the six-man, six-woman panel.

"That's a very entertaining idea," she added, "very novel. That someone should come along out of the blue and confess to these crimes."

But the letter should not be taken seriously, she said, because it was "born out of the desperate jail-house imaginings of the defendant."

Jurors later requested copies of the letter, as well as letters and notes that Mrs. Moore's psychiatrists took during sessions with her.

The prosecutor acknowledged to the jury that she could not produce a witness who saw Mrs. Moore administer poison to Mr. Reid or to anyone else. Nor was any arsenic found in a search of the defendant's house a week and a half after it was discovered that Mr. Moore had been poisoned.

"Don't ask the state to do the impossible," she said. "People get rid of evidence. People -- particularly this defendant -- are not stupid. She is very clever."

So clever, the prosecutor said, that had it not been for Mr. Moore, the earlier poisonings would have gone undetected. Mr. Moore, whom Mrs. Moore married in 1989, was found to have been arsenic-poisoned after he was hospitalized with a mysterious illness last year.

"If she had left Dwight Moore alone, Raymond Reid would still today be lying in his grave undiscovered," Ms. Branch said. "If she had left Dwight Moore alone, James Taylor would still today be lying in his grave undiscovered. She poisoned one man too many. She outsmarted herself."

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