Trial begins for Columbus teens accused of murder, stealing cars in Christmas crime spree

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Three Columbus teens are on trial for multiple felonies in a nine-day December 2017 crime spree that involved stealing cars and fatally shooting a homeowner during a burglary.

Ladarius Travon Render, Marquez Jamon Clayton and Kevonta Daykwon Daniels are accused of gunning down 61-year-old Kenneth E. Moore on Dec. 18 in his Curry Street residence, where Moore came home about 10:30 p.m. and found intruders in his house.

When he turned to run, he was shot from behind, in the left shoulder and right buttock. He fell at the threshold to his back door, where the burglars stepped over him as they ran to a stolen truck and fled, taking some of the Moore family’s Christmas presents, a cell phone and a set of spare keys.

Moore managed to call 911 from a cordless phone, but was unable to identify the intruders who shot him. That night, while Moore was in the hospital, thieves returned to his home with his spare keys and took a 2012 Hyundai Sonata.

Moore spent two weeks in the hospital before dying Jan. 1, 2018 from complications caused by his wounds, authorities said. He left behind five children and eight grandchildren.

The day he was shot, a neighbor’s home security system recorded a red Toyota Tacoma pickup the burglars were using, giving police a clue, said Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker, who with Assistant District Attorney Sheneka Jones is prosecuting the case.

Detectives learned the truck had been stolen the day before, from Lexington Lane, where the owner had started the pickup to warm it up, then had gone back inside his home.

On Christmas Eve, the teens took another vehicle left running, Whitaker said: A man on Murrelle Street had started a 2004 Acura MDX, to warm it up for his wife, before finding it gone.

On Christmas Day, it happened again: A man picking up his son at his parents’ home on Dirk Way left his Buick Lucerne running when he went inside. Security video showed thieves traveling in a 2004 Acura MDX took the Buick, which the Dirk Way family decided they would try to recover.

The Dirk Way resident and two of his sons got guns and went looking for the Buick, which they found at Columbus’ Belvedere Park off Buena Vista Road, Whitaker said. When the father and sons got out with guns and approached the Buick, they exchanged gunfire with the thieves, but stopped shooting when one of the sons was wounded, the prosecutor said.

The thieves got away, he said, but left the Buick behind. Police also recovered the Sonata taken from Moore’s Curry Street home, and the Acura stolen from Murrelle Street.

Unlike his two codefendants, Clayton faces no charges in the Christmas Day vehicle theft or subsequent shooting. He’s charged only in Moore’s homicide and break-in.

Besides Daniels and Render, police charged a third suspect in the Dirk Way car theft and gunfight, Devin Fitzgerald Burden, 19. He is not on trial this week because he has agreed to testify.

The defense

Today Daniels is 16; Render is 17; and Clayton is 19.

Daniels’ defense attorneys are Anthony Johnson and Barbara Evans. Johnson alleged detectives questioned his client alone for hours, pressuring the 14-year-old to confess, allowing him no bathroom breaks and feeding him only two slices of pizza, a bag of chips and a soda.

“That’s going to be one of the hardest parts of the case for us,” he said of Daniels’ videotaped statement. Daniels was too young to withstand the pressure police put on him, Johnson said: “At the time he was a 14-year-old child.”

Defense attorney Michael Eddings, who represents Render, told jurors Moore had blood clots and heart disease, and that’s what killed him — not the bullet wounds.

“He died, but he didn’t die of a killing,” Eddings said, arguing Moore’s gunshot wounds were not fatal: “There’s a high percentage of surviving these wounds.” So Moore must have died from his other ailments: “That’s not murder. It’s a death, and the state has to prove to you that it’s not a natural cause,” Eddings said.

Representing Clayton, defense attorney Stacey Jackson said investigators have no evidence against his client — no witness to say he was seen entering or leaving Moore’s home. Moore told police he saw only two intruders, not three, and could not identify anyone, Jackson said, urging jurors to judge each defendant individually.

According to their June 2018 indictment, these are the charges each faces:

  • Clayton was indicted for murder, first-degree burglary, armed robbery and aggravated assault.

  • Daniels was indicted for murder, first-degree burglary, armed robbery, using a gun to commit a felony, three counts of theft and four of aggravated assault.
  • Render was indicted for murder, first-degree burglary, armed robbery, theft by receiving stolen property, two counts of theft and four of aggravated assault.
  • Burden, who’s not on trial, was indicted for theft, using a gun to commit a felony, and three counts of aggravated assault.

The trial continues Wednesday in Judge Gil McBride’s Government Center courtroom.