'Teflon Defendant' walks straight into trouble

By Dan Morse
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 11:00 PM

To hear the police tell it, luck finally ran out for Corey Moore, the Washington street legend long known as the "Teflon Defendant."

It happened not from the wiretaps, high-powered prosecutors, three murder cases or seven trials that failed in the past. A patrolman from a small suburban police force spotted him walking down a tree-lined street, holding what looked like an open bottle of beer.

Moore, 35, inexplicably ran - leading the cop down a hill, around a corner and into a fenced-in construction site.

"Come over here boss," a fellow officer would later tell their chief back at the police station. "Look at who we got."

It was Moore, once listed by the FBI as one of the most dangerous people in the District. The man who beat three murder charges, who walked free after he was accused of a shooting and a robbery, could soon go down, police said. In a case reminiscent of Al Capone's ultimate undoing, police say they have air-tight evidence that Moore was carrying cocaine - lots of it.

They allege he was carrying a half-kilo of cocaine, which he tossed toward a dumpster while trying to get away. Back at his apartment, officers found a gallon of liquid PCP, valued at $77,000, a loaded Smith & Wesson, a .44-caliber semiautomatic and $44,000 cash, according to police accounts.

He remained locked up Saturday in the Montgomery County jail, facing the possibility of more than 20 years in prison.

"We took somebody off the street that a lot of people have been after for a lot of years," Police Chief Ronald Ricucci said.

Moore's family and supporters have long said he was the target of bad arrests and unjust prosecutions.

"Corey wants to do the right thing," family member Joan Watson said in an interview years ago as Moore prepared to be tried for the fourth time on one murder charge. "But the police and prosecutors, the FBI, they won't leave him alone. They can't convict him of what they say he did, but they won't let him go."

His attorney in the case, Vandy L. Jamison, said his client would be vindicated.

"I believe that once a fair and impartial investigation is concluded and all the facts are known, the truth and a fair trial will establish Corey's lack of involvement," Jamison said.

Jonathan Zucker, who has represented Moore in the past, said one particular allegation doesn't square with what he knows about his former client.

"It doesn't make sense that anyone as sharp as Corey would walk around with an open bottle of alcohol while carrying cocaine," Zucker said.

A string of cases

Moore grew up in Southeast Washington in the 1980s, an impoverished child from a broken home surrounded by that era's crack cocaine wars. As a young teenager, he was arrested on charges of assaulting a man with a knife, shooting at another man and stealing a vehicle. He served time at a youth home.

At 17, the slight kid known as Li'l Corey turned himself in on charges that he and another teenager killed a District man described by police as a local drug dealer. A key witness in that case also ended up dead, and the evidence against Moore was relatively weak. Charges were dropped.

Other cases popped up, shaping his image among law enforcement as a ruthless thug even as he grew to only 5-foot-5. Agents searched his house and found a sawed-off, Mini Ruger assault rifle, hunting knife, flack jacket and gas mask hidden in a closet. Moore did 51 months in prison for the weapons.

While locked up, he fatally stabbed another inmate, but beat the murder charge at trial by asserting self defense. Over the years, he also was cleared of charges of assault with intent to kill, assault with a deadly weapon and running a drug trafficking network that brought in product from as far away as California.

But the case that made him famous - earned him the Teflon Defendant moniker and a cover story in Don Diva, a gangster life magazine known as The Original Street Bible - was when someone shot and killed Byron Hammond while he sat in the front of his Plymouth Grand Fury. Prosecutors tried Moore four times over four years. The result: Four hung juries, one that deliberated for a month. Prosecutors finally dropped the charge.

'He's charming'

Moore can be polite and mild mannered. He has held a series of jobs over the years: Carpet installation, photographer, car salesmen, private investigator.

"He's very bright," Zucker said. "He's very personable. He's charming."

Amira Williams, Moore's former wife who said she is still close with him, said the term Teflon Defendant unfairly dehumanizes Moore. "He hates it," she said. "It's not something that he invited or perpetuates. He didn't want that title."

Moore recently settled into an apartment in , an eclectic community just north of the District.

"He did not exude attitude. He didn't swagger," his next-door neighbor, Clair Garman, said Wednesday. "He seemed like a sweet, normal guy."

Takoma Park's police force didn't know about their new resident. That included patrolman Keith Hubley, who on the evening of Sept. 25 spotted a man walking down Sherman Avenue with what looked to Hubley like a bottle of alcohol.

He turned his cruiser around and started to get out to talk to him. Standard procedure would compel Hubley to ask the man to pour out the contents and place the bottle inside a bag. At the most, said Ricucci, Hubley would have written him a simple citation.

But the officer never got the chance. Moore took off and tossed the bottle to the ground, according to police.

At Maple Avenue, he turned right, tossed a bag toward a dumpster, tore across the street, rounded the corner of an apartment building undergoing renovations and found himself surrounded on three sides by a chain-link fence, police said. Hubley, now assisted by a colleague, took him into custody.

Along the chase route, a detective searched the dumpster area, and found a clear package of 1.2 pounds of cocaine. Police valued it at $50,000. He provided a D.C. address and was booked into jail.

Police didn't know who they really had. The morning of Sept. 27, they were called to a possible attempted break-in at an apartment on Sherman Avenue, part of the chase route. The tenant, the police learned, was named Corey Moore.

Ricucci figured one of two things happened: Moore placed a call from jail, telling an associate to go clean out his stash, or someone heard about the arrest and smelled opportunity. Either way, the intruders didn't get in. Detectives got a search warrant, went inside and found the PCP and guns, according to arrest records.

Back at the station, officers still viewed Moore as no more than a name.

They started going through his belongings. On a CD storage device, they found court documents and scanned newspaper articles that identified him as the Teflon Defendant and reported all his legal battles. They showed them to the chief.

"We said, 'Oh my God,' " Ricucci said. "We walked into the big one."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company