On January 2, 1975, 88-year-old Eva King Jones was raped and murdered in her home located about 100 yards from police headquarters in Emporia, Virginia.
Jones called police at about 7:45 p.m. and reported she had been raped, robbed of $40 and choked. The retired school teacher was partially clad and gasping for breath. Before she died two hours later while undergoing emergency surgery, Jones said she had been attacked by a black man.
Due to where she lived, Jones was a close friend to police and she was a generally popular local woman. Police aggressively pursued the investigation, despite the lack of evidence. Over the next six days nearly two dozen men were picked up and questioned, but were released.
On January 8, 1975, Emporia police officers picked up 32-year-old Curtis Moore, a man with a history of mental disorders. Moore had been treated for mental-health problems since 1960 in four different states and had been diagnosed as schizophrenic and mentally disabled. He had been released from a hospital in Washington, D.C., just three weeks before the murder occurred.
He was interrogated about the rape and murder from about 3:30 until nearly 9 p.m., but denied any involvement, though he made some inconsistent, but incriminating statements.
During much of the questioning, Moore hummed the theme song from the television program “Have Gun—Will Travel.” His interrogators repeatedly tried to get his attention, according to a transcript of a portion of the questioning that was recorded on a tape recorder.
At that point, police took him to Jones’s home in an attempt to trigger further inculpatory statements, if not a full confession. At the home, police said he did make statements placing himself at the home on the night of the murder.
He was charged with first-degree rape and murder. On June 30, 1978, he was convicted of both charges—almost solely on the basis of his statements—and was sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to a Virginia mental hospital.
After Moore’s state appeals were denied, a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
On April 21, 1980, U.S. District Judge Robert Merhige Jr. ordered the confession suppressed and set aside the conviction because Moore’s interrogation was improper. The judge found that Moore had not been read his Miranda warning until at least four hours of interrogation had elapsed and that the state was unable to prove that Moore understood his rights.
On August 20, 1981, the ruling was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and Moore was released pending a new trial. The charges were then dismissed.
In 2005, then-Governor Mark Warner ordered testing of biological evidence from 1973 through 1988 that was discovered in the files of deceased crime lab analyst Mary Jane Burton.
In 2008, the evidence in the Jones murder case that was found in Burton’s file was sent for DNA testing. The DNA tests exonerated Moore and were a match to Thomas Pope Jr., who was convicted of abduction and forcible sodomy in 1991 and was paroled in 2003.
On March 24, 2010, Pope, 55, was convicted of both charges and sentenced to life in prison.
Moore didn’t live long enough to learn of his exoneration. He died in California on April 25, 2006.
– Maurice Possley