published Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Prosecutors lay out case as Chattanooga murder trial begins

Unjolee Tremone Moore, who is charged with the killing of Bernard Hughes, sits in the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Courts Building in Judge Don Poole's courtroom on Tuesday.
Unjolee Tremone Moore, who is charged with the killing of Bernard Hughes, sits in the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Courts Building in Judge Don Poole's courtroom on Tuesday.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Bernard Hughes answered a knock on the door of his apartment in the dark morning hours of June 29, 2010.

He went outside to talk to the men in his yard.

First words became shouts, then shouts became punches before punches became bullets.

A .45-caliber slug hit Hughes in the right temple, a .38-caliber slug struck his chest and punctured a lung.

Hughes' life ended in minutes, but a three-year journey of strange happenings brought those police say were involved to court for the first trial of likely two in his death.

The unusual path that brought Unjolee Moore to trial Tuesday involved allegations a ranking Chattanooga police officer ordered his niece's cellphone not be collected as evidence; claims by one of the co-defendants that he knew of a plot to kill the head of the Chattanooga Gang Task Force; a plea deal by one of the suspects to testify against his alleged accomplices.

Prosecutors Cameron Williams and Neal Pinkston laid out the events of the 46-year-old man's death and pointed to Moore as the man who knew Hughes dealt marijuana, didn't have a weapon and wouldn't call police -- in other words, an "easy target."

Williams told the jury that Moore drove the quartet of men to Hughes' 4417 Oakwood Drive apartment that night, then drove them away after the killing and later helped one of the men dispose of evidence.

"[Moore] thought of it, he drove them there and he drove away," Williams said. "This crime does not happen without him."

Moore later told police what had happened, the robbery plans, his involvement and details, such as the caliber of the weapons, which had not been publicly released, Williams said.

But Moore's attorney, Garth Best, said jurors should scrutinize the lack of evidence. He said there would not be DNA, photographs or eyewitnesses to link his client to this crime.

"You're not going to have any of that," Best said.

Three other men were arrested in Hughes' death -- John Thomas "Cutthroat" Simpson, 32; Harold Francis Butler, III, 33; and Steven James Ballou, 33.

Simpson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in January and faces 15 to 25 years in prison depending on his criminal history and recommendations by prosecutors.

As part of his plea deal, Simpson must testify against the other men.

Moments before jury selection began Tuesday, Simpson told Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole that his family had been threatened and he wanted to delay the upcoming trial of Ballou and Butler, scheduled together on July 16, for two months so his family could move.

Poole said he would hear from him later but that the request didn't relate to Moore's case.

It was also Simpson who, last November, fired his attorneys and represented himself while questioning then-Chattanooga Gang Task Force Director Boyd Patterson.

Simpson previously had told Patterson that there was a plot by members of the Gangster Disciples to kill him and Simpson wanted to warn Patterson.

Patterson said that while he treated the information seriously, police investigated leads and no other evidence backed up Simpson's claims.

"To me it seems as if he was attempting to get his bond lowered," Patterson testified in the previous hearing.

Lawyers for all four men asked the case be dismissed when it was revealed that Chattanooga Police Lt. Edwin McPherson, now a captain, told investigators not to collect a mobile phone of his niece, which they believed could have been connected to the shooting suspects.

McPherson testified in a previous hearing that he didn't remember telling the investigator not to take the phone.

The captain said he referred his niece to other investigators to avoid any conflict of interest. A police Internal Affairs investigation recommended that McPherson be disciplined for his conduct. But department chiefs said there wasn't enough evidence to punish the officer.

The trial, which resumes in Poole's courtroom today, is expected to last until at least Thursday.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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