A week after Brandon Joseph Rhode was executed for his part in the 1998 murders of three Jones County family members, his accomplice remains on death row.
Daniel Anthony Lucas, 31, was 19 years old when he was charged with killing Bryan, Kristin and Steven Moss at their Griswoldville Road home during a burglary on April 23, 1998.
He and Rhode were tried separately, several months apart, but the men were both equally convicted of murder, burglary and kidnapping. Lucas is housed at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison just outside Jackson, home of Georgia’s death row.
During trial, Rhode testified that he shot 15-year-old Kristin twice and dropped his gun. He said Lucas picked up the gun and shot Steven Moss, 37.
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Lucas told investigators a different story. He said he shot 11-year-old Bryan Moss six times while Rhode shot Kristin and Steven Moss in the next room.
Although separate sets of jurors sentenced both men to death, the facts and circumstances of Lucas’ trial are different from Rhode’s, said Lisa Carey-Davis, a lawyer representing Lucas in his federal appeal.
“We believe there are strong reasons why Mr. Lucas should receive a new trial or at least a new sentencing hearing,” she said.
Lucas’ case has been appealed and heard in numerous state courts since his 1999 conviction. The case is now in federal court.
Among the arguments Lucas’ federal appeal lawyers raise are that his trial lawyers were inadequate, the prosecutor withheld evidence and a juror was incompetent.
The primary lawyer appointed to represent Lucas had been involved in just two other capital cases. In one of them, he sat at the lawyers’ table but didn’t participate. Two other lawyers also served on Lucas’ defense team. One had no prior direct experience in death penalty trials, and the other was a recent law school graduate who had never tried a case, according to the appeal.
Among the mistakes the appellate lawyers cite is an argument that the trial lawyers should have worked harder to suppress a videotaped statement that Lucas made after a 17-hour interrogation, and alleged coercion.
The lawyers argue that there were no eyewitnesses or physical evidence linking Lucas to the crime scene, victims or murder weapons. Because Lucas was “severely intoxicated” on the afternoon of the slayings, he didn’t remember what had happened.
Investigators supplied Lucas with information about the crime and threatened him with the electric chair if he did not confess, according to the appeal.
In a pretrial hearing to suppress Lucas’ statement, the trial lawyers failed to present evidence of Lucas’ drug abuse, intoxication on the day of the crime, brain damage that compromised his memory or susceptibility to suggestion, even though the lawyers had interviewed expert witnesses about the subjects, according to the appeal.
Lawyers for the state say that Lucas’ claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were properly rejected on appeal by a state court, according to federal court records.
The defense said Lucas’ rights also were violated by the prosecution’s not sharing information in a timely manner about a witness who saw Rhode’s car, or one like it, pull out of the Mosses’ driveway. The evidence was uncovered during a state appeals hearing.
Tim Bentley was interviewed by the Jones County Sheriff’s Office and an assistant district attorney on Sept. 7, 1999 — the day before Lucas’ trial began. Bentley told investigators that he heard shots coming from the direction of the Moss home and later saw a red car pull out in front of him from the Mosses’ driveway.
He said the driver “was animated,” but the passenger, assumed to be Lucas, didn’t react when the two cars nearly collided. Bentley described the passenger as “comatose.”
The defense argued at Lucas’ trial that Lucas was too intoxicated to form the “requisite intent” for a conviction, and that his mental state was relevant during sentencing because it affected his individual culpability for the crime.
Having Bentley’s testimony at trial would have provided support for the defense arguments, the appellate lawyers argue.
“Bentley was the closest witness to the crime in both time and place,” according to the appeal.
State lawyers maintain that Lucas’ lawyers haven’t presented any new evidence pertaining to Bentley’s testimony that should overturn a lower court’s ruling on the issue.
Another argument raised in the appeal is that a juror deliberating Rhode’s fate was incompetent because she showed signs of confusion and forgetfulness.
When filling out her juror questionnaire, the woman indicated that she had no children, although she was a mother of two. When questioned during jury selection, the woman said she couldn’t remember filling out the form.
Months after the trial, the woman told an investigator she went along with the decision of the other jurors, according to the appeal.
Lawyers for the state argue that Lucas’ lawyers have not presented “concrete evidence” that the juror had been diagnosed with dementia or that she was confused during the trial, according to court records.
It’s unclear when a federal judge will rule on the pending appeal.
Information from Telegraph’s archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.