By Shelbie Harris, email@example.com
POCATELLO ‚ÄĒ The two brothers accused of beating a Pocatello man to death last year and sharing a video of the fatal fight on social media were both acquitted of all charges in the Bannock County Courthouse on Wednesday.
Gabriel ‚ÄúGabi‚ÄĚ Moreno, 26, of Pocatello, was initially charged with second-degree murder for striking 30-year-old Nathan Tad Richardson at least twice in the face, with one of the blows knocking Richardson unconscious and causing his head to fatally strike the ground.
Anthony Moreno, 24, of Pocatello, was initially charged with principal to second-degree murder for making comments that encouraged his brother to strike Richardson and for recording and sharing the altercation on the social media application Snapchat.
Jurors deliberated for two hours after a trial that lasted seven days and saw both Moreno brothers take the stand to testify in their own defense. At least two of the 12 jurors who provided the verdict to Sixth District Judge Robert C. Naftz left the courtroom visibly emotional.
In addition to the second-degree murder charges, jurors acquitted Gabriel of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges. Anthony was also acquitted of principal to manslaughter charges.
Before the verdict was read, both state prosecutors and the defense attorney representing the Moreno brothers, Justin Oleson, of Blackfoot ‚ÄĒ as well as judge Naftz ‚ÄĒ instructed family members and those in the gallery to refrain from reacting loudly.
Several members of Richardson‚Äôs and the Moreno brothers‚Äô families quietly began crying when the verdict came back not guilty. As Gabriel left the courtroom, he mouthed the words ‚ÄúI love you‚ÄĚ and formed a heart with his hands as he looked back at his family.
Richardson died during an altercation with Gabriel in an alleyway outside the Center Street Clubhouse during the early morning hours of June 24, 2017.
Cassandra Sorensen, who was Richardson‚Äôs girlfriend at the time of his death, said the not guilty verdict hurt her just as much as when she first answered the phone and was told Richardson was dead.
‚ÄúI literally feel like my heart has been ripped out all over again,‚ÄĚ she said.
Prior to deliberating, jurors received instructions from Naftz about the various laws they should use to guide their decision.
Jurors were instructed that any statement one brother made outside of the courtroom could not be used against the other brother. Further, jurors were told to only consider sworn testimony from witnesses during trial, evidence exhibits that were admitted and facts of the case agreed upon by both state prosecutors and the defense prior to and throughout the trail.
Bannock County Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Godfrey argued during his closing statements that Gabriel acted with malice and intent when he struck Richardson, who ultimately died from injuries sustained during the fight.
Additionally, Godfrey argued that the jury should not consider Gabriel‚Äôs actions as self-defense because he could have stopped the fight on at least two occasions, adding that at one point Richardson took one large and several small steps backwards while raising his open hands up to his chest in what Godfrey described as the ‚Äúinternationally recognized symbol of surrender.‚ÄĚ
Godfrey also argued that Gabriel could have been motivated by feelings of anger or pride instead of fear for his safety during the altercation.
Moreover, Godfrey argued that if Richardson had approached the vehicle that both Moreno brothers were sitting in prior to the altercation and began choking and attacking Gabriel then the two people who were supposed to give Richardson a ride home that night ‚ÄĒ who were in their own vehicle in the alleyway at the time ‚ÄĒ would have heard some of the commotion.
‚ÄúThat ladies and gentleman is very, very significant,‚ÄĚ Godfrey said.
To start his closing arguments, Oleson held up a legal pad with the words ‚ÄúNot Guilty‚ÄĚ scribbled on the back in permanent marker. He provided the jury with brief moments of the history of the American justice system dating back to its roots from 16th century England.
‚ÄúYou are the most important part of this system,‚ÄĚ Oleson said to the jury, which included nine women and three men.
Oleson argued that Richardson initiated the fight and that his hand movements after being struck by Gabriel were not the internationally recognized sign for giving up. Rather, he was instead preparing to use his larger reach to get the advantage in the altercation, Oleson said.
In terms of Anthony‚Äôs principal to murder and manslaughter charges, Oleson argued that people who face similar charges are usually directly involved in a crime in some way, such as a hitman hired by an angry spouse or the getaway driver for a bank robbery heist.
Someone who records a fight using his cellphone or shouts words of encouragement to his brother like how a fan yells words of support to an athlete during a sporting event does not make them an accessory to murder, Oleson argued.
‚ÄúWhen I was growing up, my dad always said that if you‚Äėre ever going to get into a fight, you better be tough enough to take the first punch,‚ÄĚ Oleson said. ‚ÄúGabi took three ‚ÄĒ three that he didn‚Äôt want.‚ÄĚ
Oleson continued, ‚ÄúThis is a case of Gabriel Moreno defending himself from an unprovoked attack.‚ÄĚ
Considering the verdict in the case, the jury agreed.