How a child molester with a 15-year prison sentence went eight years without serving a single day

jmustian@ledger-enquirer.com; chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 14, 2011 

Eight years ago, Melvin Charles Moseley was a convicted child molester on his way to prison, the result of a 15-year sentence in Muscogee County Superior Court.

The Vietnam War veteran never made it.

In a case that befuddles legal experts and is riddled with mistakes and missteps, Moseley, now 70, has remained free since his September 2003 sentencing by Judge Doug Pullen.

In an interview last week, Pullen called the oversight the worst mistake of his 40-year legal career.

“Some people may say it’s the clerk’s fault, the probation office’s fault, the prosecution’s fault, the defense attorney’s fault. That is not true -- it is my fault,” he said. “I am a human being and I have made my share of mistakes, but this is a mistake a human being is not entitled to make.”

Though it’s been pending for more than nine years, Moseley’s case took on a palpable level of urgency last week after it was reviewed and scrutinized by the Judicial Qualifications Commission at a time when a special prosecutor has been appointed to probe potential judicial misconduct within the Chattahoochee Circuit.

On Friday, just hours after the JQC returned the file to the Muscogee County Clerk of Superior Court, prosecutors filed a motion seeking Moseley’s immediate surrender to the Georgia Department of Corrections, and a hearing was hastily set for noon Tuesday to resolve the case before Chief Superior Court Judge John Allen.

Pullen said he passed the case off to his colleague in part because Moseley’s case has not appeared on Allen’s docket. “I just think it’s prudent for any number of reasons since it involves all of us,” Pullen said, referring to Judge Bobby Peters and Judge Frank Jordan Jr., both of whom briefly presided over Moseley’s proceedings.

After pleading guilty to having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl he met at church, Moseley was allowed to remain free on $25,000 bond even after his sentence due to health reasons as Pullen awaited Moseley’s sexual and psychological evaluation. The report was completed the next month, but in a bizarre and highly unusual oversight, Moseley’s case has remained unresolved for nearly eight years since his sentencing, and he has not spent a day in prison.

During the 2003 sentencing hearing, Pullen all but promised Moseley and his defense attorney Mark Shelnutt that the sentence would be reduced after the evaluations.

The question now is whether Allen will fulfill Pullen’s promise to reduce the 15-year sentence or send a 70-year-old to the penitentiary. Shelnutt has argued incarceration at this point would amount to cruel and unusual punishment. He also says District Attorney Julia Slater should recuse her office from the case because Slater worked at Shelnutt’s office while the firm was handling Moseley’s case.

“If they put him in prison for 15 years now, that’s not justice,” Shelnutt said. “That’s the furthest thing in the world from justice. That was never intended.”

Slater said there is no conflict of interest in the case and added her office will push for Moseley to serve the sentence he was given.

Asked to respond to Shelnutt’s assertion that Moseley has been imprisoned all the while by the specter of incarceration looming large, Slater said, “What, the kind of prison where he stays in his own house, eats breakfast at his own table and wears his own clothes?”

How did this happen?

Melvin Charles Moseley Sr. met the girl at Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church in Columbus, where he sang in the choir. He became fond of the Columbus High School student and bought her a cell phone so they could stay in touch. They also exchanged notes and letters, and, according to court documents, had discussed running away together.

Between November 2001 and January 2002, the two met before she went to school, and on at least two occasions had sexual intercourse in his van. The girl’s mother called police in April 2002 after she learned her daughter was pregnant. Shelnutt maintains Moseley was incapable of impregnating the girl due to his age and ailments. The girl, then 15, later had an abortion, but prosecutors were unable to coordinate with the family to obtain DNA evidence to test whether Moseley in fact fathered the child.

Police arrested Moseley one morning outside the school as he was apparently waiting for the girl in his van. He admitted to the relationship but denied fathering the child. He was jailed on charges of statutory rape and molestation.

Moseley spent less than a month in the Muscogee County Jail before he was released on bond, jail records show. A Muscogee County grand jury indicted him in June 2002 on two counts each of statutory rape and aggravated child molestation.

More than a year later, in September 2003, Moseley pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of child molestation in a new indictment. The victim’s mother told Pullen that Moseley deserved to do prison time.

“This is very hard and this has been going on for too long, and he needs to be put away,” she said in brief remarks, according to a transcript. “My daughter should not have had to go through this, and the rest of our family should not have been put through this, and he needs to be away from children.”

Shelnutt, however, sought to point out a number of mitigating factors, including Moseley’s cooperation with the authorities. Moseley was a decorated Vietnam veteran, earning the Bronze Star for his service in 1967 and 1968 as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He served his country for 26 years in the U.S. Army, and later worked as a bus driver at Fort Benning.

As the court-ordered psychological evaluation revealed, he came home with emotional baggage. He has been diagnosed by the Veterans Administration as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a Highland Institute for Behavioral Change report that was not filed into court records until Thursday.

“Melvin reports serious depression and that he attempted suicide two years ago,” the 2003 report states, outlining the attempt in detail. “He put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, but his wife had removed the bullets.”

Shelnutt told Pullen at the sentencing, “This has been such a difficult case, Your Honor, because everything I’ve seen and heard about this gentleman suggests that the incident is so far removed from everything that his life has stood for and his character suggests.”

Pullen told Moseley not to “pass out” and assured him that he intended to lower the 15-year sentence. But Pullen said he had second thoughts about his promise after he read the post-sentence investigation report. He never acted one way or another, and Moseley’s case became buried somewhere under the hundreds of other proceedings that clog the courts on a daily basis.

“I can’t believe nothing happened,” the victim’s father said in a phone interview Friday, learning for the first time that Moseley was never imprisoned. “We’ve tried to just put it past us and move on, but it’s a tragedy (my daughter) will have to live with the rest of her life.”

The victim in the case is now married and serving in the military in Texas, her father said.

Falling through the cracks

It remains unclear how exactly Moseley’s case came to be forgotten. According to Shelnutt, the case did not resurface after the 2003 sentencing until sometime around May 2006, after a church member placed a call to complain about Moseley’s freedom.

Shelnutt’s correspondence with his client shows the case was twice scheduled for a hearing around that time, but the settings were canceled due to scheduling conflicts.

The next mention of Moseley in court documents appears to be in January 2010 when the unresolved case showed up on Jordan’s docket. “It just kind of started appearing on the docket again,” said LaRae Moore, the assistant district attorney now handling Moseley’s case.

Three months later, court documents show Moore, Jordan and Shelnutt held an informal meeting about the case in which Shelnutt pushed to have it placed on the court’s “dead docket,” a means of shelving the charges until they’re ultimately dismissed.

Shelnutt argued that Moseley hadn’t been in any trouble in the interim and did not pose a threat to society. But Moore refused to go along with that course of action, court documents show.

“He had a sentence that I thought he should serve. That’s the bottom line,” Moore said in an interview. “I didn’t think the case should just go away. … He was just out there walking around.”

The decision rested with Jordan. Court records show that Jordan called for the case to be put “back on the window sill” after the parties failed to reach an agreement. He did not return a call to his office late Friday afternoon.

Moseley’s case re-emerged last month on Peters’ docket. The judge held a status conference and decided it best that Pullen resolve the case since he sentenced Moseley in the first place.

A ‘strange’ case

Though Pullen accepted full responsibility for the delays in the Moseley case, there seems to be an ample amount of blame to go around. Shelnutt, for his part, said he told Moseley to lie low the past several years. He said he acted in the best interests of his client and could have been disbarred had he solicited for a swifter incarceration.

Wayne Jernigan, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Moseley, said that prosecutors do not receive the post-sentence investigations.

“It’s up to the court once they get the report to notify us once it gets put back on the docket, and apparently in this case it just never happened,” he said in a phone interview Saturday. “It certainly was not intentional. All parties bear some responsibility, … I do certainly feel bad that it has not been handled, and hopefully that will be rectified very soon.”

Legal experts said Moseley’s case is unusual on a number of levels, and also pointed to a breakdown after the post-sentence investigation.

“I am not aware of judges ordering psychological reports post sentencing, and I have never heard of a case where the psychological report was not filed for a period of eight years,” said G. Mallon Faircloth, the former federal magistrate and Superior Court judge who was on the Judicial Council of Georgia and Chair of the Georgia Superior Court Rules Committee with the oversight of the Georgia Supreme Court. “A psychological evaluation, ordered by a specific judge, is always sent back to that judge. After reading and considering the report, the judge then timely files the report, sealed or unsealed, at his option, into the clerk’s file of the case.”

Joe W. Hendricks Jr., the district attorney of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit who this spring was appointed by the state attorney general to probe the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit for judicial misconduct, reviewed the Moseley file last week and said the case “is strange for a number of reasons.”

“One, usually when a defendant is sentenced in a child molestation case, he is not let out on bail,” Hendricks said. “After a long delay, it is good to see that the regular judicial process is operating again in this case.”

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