Darrell Moore was 16 when he and a gang of young robbers barged into a Northeast Washington apartment in 1994 and terrorized a group of women and children, fatally shooting a teenage girl as she knelt in prayer and wounding her mother and aunt.
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Superior Court Judge Robert D. Okun as Okum. The article has been corrected.
Prosecuted as an adult, Moore was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in 1995 and sentenced to 66 years to life in prison. If not for a D.C. law that allows for the early release of offenders who committed their crimes when they were young, he would not have been eligible for parole until 2053, around the time of his 75th birthday.
Instead, he was freed last summer after 26 years behind bars.
And now, at 43, he is charged with murder — again.
In an affidavit made public Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court, a homicide detective said Moore fatally shot a 37-year-old man during an argument the afternoon of April 3 in the 300 block of 18th Street NE, not far from where the 1994 home invasion took place. He was arrested this week and pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Superior Court.
After reviewing the affidavit, which lays out the police investigation of the April 3 shooting, Magistrate Judge Shelly A. Mulkey called the evidence against Moore “extremely heavy.” And after listening to a prosecutor’s synopsis of the 1994 mayhem, she ordered Moore held in jail pending prosecution, saying, “I find that there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant poses a danger to the community.”
The killing of Julius Hayes, who was shot six times, occurred nine months after another Superior Court judge, Robert D. Okun, granted Moore’s request for early release.
The “horrific” home invasion had “caused lasting damage to the victims and their families,” Okun wrote in his July ruling after hearing testimony from survivors of the crime. However, based on records of Moore’s good behavior in prison and a lawyer’s account of Moore’s traumatic childhood and adolescence, Okun said Moore “has significantly changed” as an adult after a quarter-century of incarceration.
“More specifically, the Court finds that Defendant does not currently pose a danger to the safety of any person or the community,” Okun said in ordering his release.
A few weeks later, Moore was let out of prison and came back to Washington, a scenario that appears to illustrate the uncertain nature of judicial decisions, particularly when judges are called on to predict someone’s future dangerousness.
Moore was a beneficiary of the District’s Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, known as the IRAA, passed by the D.C. Council in 2016 and signed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). The law initially allowed judges to release inmates whose crimes occurred before they were 18 and who have served a minimum of 20 years. The age cutoff has since been increased to 24 by the council and mayor and the amount of time behind bars reduced to 15 years.
“I say that law is terrible,” said Nancy Slaughter Jr., who was a child hiding under blankets during the 1994 shooting. Her brother also hid as her sister was killed and her mother and aunt were shot and wounded.
Slaughter, who is now 37, said the attack occurred after her mother returned home from celebrating her birthday. Each birthday since, she said, her mother “had to remember her daughter was shot and killed on that same day.”
She said her mother testified in court and “asked the judge not to let any of them free.”
The U.S. attorney’s office in the District said 67 prisoners have been granted sentence reductions and all but three have already been released. They said six inmates have been turned down.
Moore was the fourth IRAA recipient to be arrested for a new crime and the first to be accused of a violent offense, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The others were accused of drug offenses and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
At court hearings on the release requests, prosecutors have objected in every instance, arguing that reducing the sentences of convicted violent criminals causes victims and their families to lose faith in the punishments imposed by judges. Advocates for the IRAA say the law offers hope to young people who mature in prison, inspiring them to become active participants in their own rehabilitation.
The IRAA has been controversial from the start, criticized by police, prosecutors and victims’ advocates. The District’s newly confirmed police chief, Robert J. Contee III, declined to comment on Moore’s case, according to a spokesman.
In an interview last fall, David Gorman, head of the homicide section in the U.S. attorney’s office, criticized expanding the law to cover defendants up to age 24, saying that in murder cases, “you are telling the community that 15 years is the appropriate sentence. That’s what we are concerned about.”
Supporters of the law cite studies showing that the brains of teenagers and young adults are not fully mature until age 25. They argue that those who commit crimes at younger ages should not be punished as adults with decades in prison.
The law requires a judge to consider a long list of factors in ruling on an early release, including the defendant’s age when the crime occurred; family background, personal character and mental health; rehabilitative progress; and how victims and prosecutors feel about the release request.
In Moore’s case, Okun ruled that all but a few of the factors weighed in Moore’s favor, such as the psychic trauma he suffered as a youth, that he “has taken responsibility for his actions” and that he did not have a gun during the home invasion.
According to court records, the two women who survived the attack and the slain girl, 16-year-old Denise Michelle King, were shot by two of Moore’s accomplices, including his twin brother, Derrick Moore, who remains in prison.
Prosecutors who opposed the release wrote in a court filing that the “cold and callous nature of this crime reflects the defendant’s depravity.” They said that “the government isn’t opposed to second chances, just the premature release of violent offenders who have yet to establish their maturity and rehabilitation.”
Kristin G. Koehler, the lawyer who helped Darrell Moore gain his freedom, did not respond to an interview request.
Police said in 1994 Moore and several companions broke into the apartment across the hall from where they had been smoking marijuana mixed with PCP, a powerful hallucinogen known to induce violent behavior. They planned to rob a reputed marijuana dealer who lived there, but he was not home when they barged in.
In the apartment were young Denise, her mother and aunt, and two small children who cowered under blankets as the gang terrorized the others, police said. Slaughter and her brother were those children.
At one point, authorities said, the assailants held Denise and the women on a floor at gunpoint and talked about how they would kill them. Denise rose to her knees and prayed, saying she was ready to die, and asked God to spare the children. Denise’s mother then tapped a shoe of one the attackers, saying, “Please, if you believe in God, don’t hurt my babies.”
Each of the three was then shot in the head. The women eventually recovered but Denise died instantly, police said.
Prosecutors argued Moore did not meet the criteria for early release, noting that he had not earned a high school equivalency diploma behind bars, had not completed vocational training and had no housing or job lined up. They said his “reentry into society will increase his likelihood of reoffending.”
Moore’s attorney, Koehler, filed a voluminous document describing her client’s troubled upbringing with alcoholic parents and a learning disability that left him, at 15, with the functional intelligence of a 7-year-old. She said those problems had made him susceptible to peer pressure, leading to his participation in the home invasion.
Moore “has spent time on personal reflection” and “expresses remorse for his participation in the crime,” Koehler wrote. She said he “wishes he had the strength and willpower as a young child to stop the terrible chain of events.”
Julie Tate contributed to this report.