On August 29, 1998, two men armed with pistols robbed a video store in Fullerton California, escaping with $190 from the cash drawer. One witness said the men, one black and one white, drove off in what looked like a blue Geo Prism.
A few months later, on November 24, a man called 911 to report that he had been robbed at an ATM in Orange, California. The man said two men, one with a pistol, had robbed him after he made a withdrawal and fled to a blue Geo Prism. He said the car drove away slowly enough that he was able to follow it for several blocks and memorized the license plate.
Police flooded the area and stopped a blue Geo Prism being driven by 18-year-old Joshua Moore, of Torrance, California. Also in the car were Moore’s friend, Charles Gilbert and Dron Botts, a friend of Gilbert’s whom Moore did not know.
Moore later said he had agreed to drive Gilbert and Botts to Gilbert’s aunt’s house in Orange, but halfway, Gilbert asked Moore to pull into a parking lot near a bank. Gilbert and Botts got out of the car. Moore said when they returned, Botts was running and carrying a handgun. Moore said he was scared and shocked and drove slowly out of fear until Botts ordered him to speed up, tossing the gun out of the car. Moore drove into a dead end where police caught them. Under Moore’s seat, police found a plastic replica of a .45 caliber handgun.
All three were charged in the robbery.
Police in Fullerton later obtained photographs of the three and showed them to witnesses at the video store. The clerk selected the photograph of Moore as the white man who robbed the store. The clerk was unable to identify Gilbert, who is black, as Moore’s accomplice.
After Moore was charged with the video robbery, law enforcement searched his parents’ home and found several blue polo T-shirts and black wool baseball caps—the clothing described by the video store clerk—as well as pieces of paper with rap music lyrics that described drive-by shootings and .45-caliber weapons.
The songs were a playlist that Moore and some friends, who were in a rap music band, had put together.
Inside Moore’s car, police found photographs of a white-skinned arm holding what appeared to be a gun and pointing it at a male sleeping in a car. Moore told police the photos were posed with the fake gun.
Moore, who was free on bond, went to trial in Orange County Superior Court in November 1999 for both robberies.
The video clerk identified him as one of the robbers. Police testified about arresting him after the ATM robbery. The prosecution argued to the jury that Moore was acting out the life depicted in his rap lyrics. “He likes rap music because it reflects real life because real life is full of crimes,” the prosecutor said.
The jury convicted Moore of both robberies on November 4, 1999. Charges against Gilbert and Botts for the ATM robbery were dismissed. Moore was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the video store robbery and five years for the ATM robbery to be served concurrently.
After conviction, Moore hired a new attorney and in April 2001, his new lawyer filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that Moore’s trial attorney had provided inadequate legal assistance. The petition revealed that the defense attorney never contacted witnesses who would have testified that Moore was working in a golf and tennis shop in Huntington Beach, California when the video store was robbed.
The petition noted that after the video store robbery, when witnesses were asked if they could describe the robbers, a police officer noted no one in the store could provide a description. Moreover, the petition alleged that the identification procedure was flawed because the video store clerk said that before she viewed any photographs, police told her they had caught two men, one white and one black, in an ATM robbery and they wanted her to look at some photographs.
After the petition was filed, the Orange County District Attorney’s office conducted a re-investigation and located two receipts for transactions conducted by Moore at the golf shop at exactly the same time the video store was robbed. One of the receipts had Moore’s fingerprints on it.
On July 6, 2001, prosecutors agreed that the conviction for both robberies should be vacated. They then dismissed the video store robbery charges. Moore, although he continued to maintain he never knew Gilbert and Botts intended to rob anyone at the ATM machine, pleaded guilty to participating in the ATM robbery and was sentenced one year in prison, which he had already served.
– Maurice Possley