On January 21, 2006, an Isuzu Rodeo containing three people went off the side of the road, over-corrected to come back across the opposite lane and was hit broadside by an on-coming car in Charlotte, North Carolina.
When police and emergency personnel arrived, they discovered two men in the front seat of the Isuzu—Jorge Moreno, the owner of the Isuzu, and his 26-year-old brother, Noe. Both were seriously injured.
One of the back seat passengers was dead, another rear seat passenger was injured and the two occupants of the car that struck the Isuzu also were injured. None of the people in the Isuzu were wearing seatbelts and all had been drinking.
Jorge was found with his feet entangled in the brake pedal and accelerator on the driver’s side, but his body was lying across the passenger seat. Noe was found with his feet on the floorboard of the passenger side, but his body was lying across the driver’s seat.
The Isuzu was so badly damaged that rescue workers had to pry open the vehicle with a Jaws of Life tool. When the brothers were extricated, Noe was pulled out of the driver’s side and Jorge was pulled out of the passenger side. Police then decided Noe was the driver.
Hours later, police obtained an arrest warrant for Noe on charges of drunken driving and felony death by vehicle. A bilingual physician at the hospital told police before the warrant was served that Noe, an undocumented alien from Mexico who spoke only Spanish, had told him Jorge was the driver. Although the officer alerted a supervisor, Noe was arrested.
The charges were upgraded to second degree murder, as well as two counts of assault with a deadly weapon (vehicle) for the two women passenger of the other car and drunken driving.
Noe’s family hired an attorney who did no investigation and persuaded Noe to plead guilty on May 3, 2007 to all of the charges after he told Noe that he could not win at trial.
Noe was sentenced to 18 to 22 years in prison. At the sentencing hearing, Jorge testified that before they got into the vehicle, Noe said that he was sober enough to drive. Jorge said he had no memory of any events after that point until after the crash.
In 2009, Noe, asserting his innocence, secured the assistance of Duke Law School’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic. An accident reconstruction expert concluded that Noe Moreno could not have been the driver of the Isuzu. A trauma surgeon reached the same conclusion by analyzing the injuries sustained by the brothers and the dynamics of the crash.
After the results of the investigation were presented to the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office and a motion for a new trial was filed, the prosecution conducted its own investigation. Ultimately the prosecution’s expert reached the same conclusion—Noe was not the driver of the car.
On August 31, 2012, the District Attorney’s Office requested that the convictions be vacated and the charges were dismissed. Noe remained in custody pending the resolution of his immigration status.
– Maurice Possley