The other day I wrote to a friend of mine. The email was slugged: “I don’t want to be that guy, but …”
Yeah, there’s always a “but.”
My observation was about what was otherwise an outstanding newspaper story in the Burlington Times-News the other day about death penalty cases in North Carolina – how there are fewer of them prosecuted in recent years. This was a story in advance of a death penalty case coming up in Alamance County – but the story, by my longtime friend and former colleague Isaac Groves, looked at the entire state. Good work by Isaac.
But . . .
First let me say that fewer death penalty cases is a positive thing for society. Because it’s often not applied equally the entire thing should be either scrapped or completely reconsidered. My biggest issue is in capital crimes featuring co-defendants or multiple defendants. Those cases are often separated with each defendant facing a different judge and jury. I’ve seen trials where two people equally guilty of murder were sentenced in far different ways – in this case, substantially and life-snuffing different. And then there are the variables between cases. Why is murder a capital offense in one instance and not another. So, until the death penalty can be applied equally or even fairly, I think it best to set it aside. And that’s before we get into the ethics of the government killing people for whatever reason or the idea that executions themselves have become too barbaric.
But — that word again — none of those things were the issue Sunday. The story, headlined “Lives at stake,” stated that John Burr was the only Alamance County person on North Carolina’s Death Row. This is not exactly accurate. I can see, though, how someone could reach that conclusion.
The other Alamance County person on Death Row is Blanche Taylor Moore, who was convicted of murder in Forsyth County – not Alamance County – on Nov. 17, 1990. She’s been on Death Row ever since and is now the oldest person there. She was found guilty of poisoning her boyfriend, Raymond Reid of Kernersville, with arsenic, taking his life in 1986. Authorities said she even poisoned him after he was admitted to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem via food and milkshakes she delivered to his hospital bed.
Moore lived in Alamance County at the time of her arrest in the Reid killing and was a resident here most of her life. The road to her arrest in the Reid case also contained other arrests. It was a crazy story from the start and I was working as a city editor for the Times-News when it began to unfold and unfold and unfold. It was a media frenzy even back in those pre-Internet days. I can’t imagine what it would be like now.
The investigation began when Moore’s new husband, the Rev. Dwight Moore became violently ill after the couple returned to Burlington after a honeymoon in New Jersey in 1989. Doctors were puzzled until they ran a toxicology scan and discovered 20 times the lethal dose of arsenic in the reverend’s body. It was a miracle he survived. No one in N.C. Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill’s history had ever been found with that level of arsenic and survived.
Suspicion turned to Blanche Taylor Moore and exhumations followed in Burlington’s Pine Hill Cemetery. She was ultimately charged with murder in the 1971 death of her first husband James Taylor and the death of her mother-in-law Isla Taylor and attempted murder in the poisoning of Dwight Moore. She was also charged by Forsyth County authorities with murdering Reid.
Because the death of James Taylor occurred during a window of years when the death penalty was outlawed in the U.S. – which is why Charles Manson is still breathing as of this writing, by the way – prosecutors in Winston-Salem took over. They could seek the death penalty for Reid’s death. They also had a far better case, including nurses from Baptist Hospital who testified that Blanche Taylor Moore fed Reid soup and milkshakes while he was in the hospital. They also wrote it in his medical chart.
Later, after Blanche Taylor Moore received the death penalty, prosecutors in Alamance County did not pursue trials in the case of James and Isla Taylor or Dwight Moore.
Yes, it’s a long and tangled explanation for why Blanche Taylor Moore is one of two Alamance County people on North Carolina’s death row, but …