In the hours after Lisa Maureen Moore was reported missing on Jan. 7, 1998, her estranged husband, James, appeared overwhelmed with grief. Family members scrambled for ideas about what could have happened to her. Her sister, who found Lisa Moore's truck abandoned in a Prince William County hotel parking lot, began frantically digging into a nearby dumpster to find something, anything, that might provide a clue to her whereabouts.
"Then James came up to the hotel and hugged me and thanked me for finding the truck," Lisa Moore's older sister, Cathy Banks, said Thursday. "And all the time he knew she was in the trunk of his car, dead."
In emotional testimony Thursday morning in Prince William County Circuit Court, Lisa Moore's relatives outlined the "torturous" year they endured while searching for her, hoping that they would find her alive and well. James Moore, her estranged husband, was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison for her murder, which he hid from authorities for more than a year while feigning interest in a fruitless search and continuing to live with the couple's three children in their Manassas home.
Moore, who turned himself in to Manassas Park police shortly after the one-year anniversary of his wife's death, wiped tears from his eyes and covered his face with his hands while listening to testimony this week. Relatives spoke of how he was a loved member of their family, and how his deception led to months of turmoil and distress.
"During that year, we were obsessed with finding her," Banks testified Thursday, holding back tears. "That year he continued his lie, and we continued looking for her."
James Moore's attorney, William R. Stephens, said Moore choked his estranged wife during an argument at their Manassas Park home on Jan. 6, 1998, in retaliation for her slapping him across the face. Stephens said Moore concealed the crime because he was "overwhelmed by what he had done" and didn't want his children to lose both their mother and their father so suddenly.
According to police, Moore drove his wife's truck to a hotel and left it there, then ran home and put her body in the trunk of his car. Police said that he left the body in the trunk for some time before wrapping it in plastic and burying it in a shallow grave.
"My heart is broken, and my life will never be the same again," Lisa Moore's mother, Peggy Maitland, testified. "She was in the trunk of his car in my driveway."
On Jan. 13, 1999, James Moore met with Manassas Park and Prince William County police detectives and confessed to the crime, but only after police stepped up pressure on him to come forward. He had attended a moving vigil for his wife just the week before.
"Everything that was done during that year was done to avoid dealing with the consequences," Stephens told the court. "This man was overwhelmed by it, but this was the poorest example of judgment I think I've seen."
After telling police about the crime, James Moore led them to his wife's skeletonized remains. He has been in custody ever since. Stephens said Thursday that Moore waited so long to turn himself in so he could have time to prepare his children for life without him. He said Moore had been acclimating his children to their uncle's home for the past year.
"Nothing I can say will ever make up for what I put you all through," Moore told family members in court on Thursday. "I loved your daughter. Every day since the night of her death, I've suffered. I just want you to know that I am truly sorry for what I put you through.
"I knew that someday I would end up in jail," Moore said. "You know I'm not a coldhearted person, and this is killing me."
Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert described Moore's crime as a "method of violence at its worst" that Moore should have been able to reflect on as he carried it out. Ebert, who called the situation an "extreme tragedy," said the fact that the family had to suffer for a year without any answers made it even worse.
"It took this defendant three minutes to choke the life out of Ms. Moore," Ebert told the court. "But this choked the life and well-being out of the family for months."
Circuit Court Judge Richard B. Potter, who said this case "particularly demonstrates the power of a guilty conscience," sentenced Moore to 40 years in prison, with 15 of those years suspended.
Banks said Lisa Moore's family members were "as satisfied as we can be" about the sentence Moore received.
"It's no longer about him," Banks said. "It's about us moving on and about his and Lisa's children. Now we can live our lives."