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A ski mask, a .357-caliber Magnum, and a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Omerta Pest Control . . . Get Rid of Your Rats Today.” That’s the evidence prosecutors hope will finally put the elusive Corey Moore behind bars for good. For years they’ve sought to convict the man once considered one of Washington’s most dangerous criminals. Despite a long rap sheet, Moore has managed to avoid conviction at almost every turn, earning him the nickname “the Teflon Defendant.” Moore, 30, has been charged with numerous violent felonies over the past two decades, including three separate murders, assault with intent to kill, and armed robbery. But in each of those cases, Moore was either acquitted or the charges ultimately were dismissed. His knack for dodging prison made him a legend on the streets, and Moore eventually parlayed his fame into a job as an investigator for criminal defendants. His only conviction has been for a weapons charge, in 1995. It’s been five years since Moore last faced a jury, and prosecutors now have another shot at nabbing the longtime nemesis of local law enforcement. Moore, along with co-defendants Frederick Miller and Timothy Thomas, went on trial last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in connection with a narcotics ring that prosecutors say peddled large amounts of cocaine, heroin, and PCP throughout the city. The trial is expected to last four months. This time around, the veteran defendant had planned to represent himself at trial — a proposition that shed light on his confidence in the courtroom. But at the last minute, Moore reconsidered and deferred to his stand-by counsel, Jonathan Zucker. During his opening statement before the jury, Zucker called the prosecution of his client “overzealous” and “overreaching.” Given Moore’s history with law enforcement, a few lawyers who have defended Moore in the past say it’s safe to assume that convicting him has become a point of pride within the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District. When asked to comment, Channing Phillips, chief of staff in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said no one associated with the office could discuss Moore’s case because “to do so would prejudice his rights to a fair trial.” In court filings, however, the government has tried to discount any attempt by Moore to argue that the case against him is personal. Earlier this month prosecutors filed a motion asking the judge to prohibit Moore from suggesting to the jury that the government was motivated by a “personal vendetta” or “revenge.” U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth denied the request, saying he would rule on any such objections during the trial. One former assistant U.S. attorney familiar with Moore’s past prosecutions says the notion of a long-standing vendetta is baseless. “I think that may be an attractive defense for a defense lawyer confronted with a client who has so many charges in the past, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of how decisions are made at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” The lawyer, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, says any frustration with previous mistrials or acquittals would lie with the individual prosecutors, not the office as a whole. But one D.C. defense attorney who previously represented Moore isn’t so sure. There’s no doubt the government had every intention of getting Moore eventually, says this lawyer, who asked not to be named because of his continued work defending homicide cases. He adds, “Given his lifestyle, he perhaps made their job a little easier.” It’s a lifestyle that’s landed him in trouble with the law again and again. Though this is the first time Moore has come before Lamberth as a defendant, it’s not the first time he’s caught heat in the federal judge’s courtroom. Just weeks after the latest murder charges against Moore were dropped, in 2001, he teamed up with Miller — his co-defendant in the current case and a longtime friend — to take part in a business called Dream Team Investigations. D.C. defense attorneys hired the pair to track down witnesses and gather information, particularly in narcotics and gang-related cases. At one point the Dream Team became embroiled in controversy for their work on a case before Lamberth. The judge questioned the legitimacy of the work and, given their criminal pasts, whether they should be allowed to visit inmates inside the D.C. jail. Before going on trial, Moore filed a motion asking Lamberth to recuse himself from the case, given their earlier run-in, but the judge refused. THE ASSASSIN’S TOOL KIT In August 2004, Moore was one of nearly 20 people indicted in connection with a drug enterprise based in Southeast Washington. When FBI agents searched Moore’s Northeast D.C. home, they found a ski mask, a .357-caliber Magnum, and a single glove — items later dubbed in court papers as an “assassin’s tool kit.” Several T-shirts were also found, some bearing the slogan “Omerta,” a Mafia term meaning code of silence. Prosecutors also claim to have Moore on tape from a phone wiretap, speaking about drug transactions. Since then, a number of the defendants have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate, while others are awaiting trial later this year. Though the indictment attributes “at least one murder and several attempted murders” to the organization, Moore is not charged with murder or any other violent crimes in the case. Instead he’s charged with participating in the drug conspiracy, racketeering, and possession of a firearm. While waiting for the jury to enter the courtroom last week, Moore appeared unusually calm, even confident, for a man facing the possibility of life in prison. Wearing a gray suit and wire-rimmed glasses, the defendant scanned documents and jotted notes on a legal pad at the defense table. Then, just minutes before Moore was set to stand up and present his own opening statement to the jury, he informed the judge that he had changed his mind. He acknowledged that his initial plan to represent himself was an “unorthodox” approach, but said he did not want to adversely affect the outcome for his co-defendants. During the government’s opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julius Rothstein spoke for more than two hours, describing an intricate and, at times, tangled web of criminal activity. Although Moore’s name was mentioned only a handful of times during the lengthy discourse, the prosecutor briefly highlighted the evidence linking him to the conspiracy. He relayed excerpts from a number of tapped phone conversations, during which, Rothstein said, Moore discussed illegal activity in code. Although the prosecution had previously agreed not to use the term “assassin’s tool kit” in front of the jury, Rothstein described in detail each item seized from Moore’s home. He showed photographs of the T-shirts, including the one with the saying “Omerta Pest Control . . . Get Rid of Your Rats Today.” Rothstein argued that the shirts were used as a method of intimidation to deter cooperation with law enforcement. Although prosecutors have accused Moore of intimidating witnesses with threats of violence, he is not charged with any such crimes. Zucker said in court that none of the evidence produced by the government proves his client is guilty. He attributes the “Omerta” T-shirts to Moore’s former street vending business, which specialized in “urban” clothing. As for the recorded phone conversations, Zucker denies the government’s claim that his client was masking talk of illegal activity by speaking in code. “I’m going to ask you to judge Corey Moore by his deeds,” Zucker told the jury. “If you do that, I’m confident you will come back with a verdict of not guilty.” JURY HANGING Those familiar with Moore’s previous prosecutions say it was a lack of evidence that apparently derailed the government’s most notable case against him. Prosecutors spent seven years trying to convict Moore of murder in connection with the 1994 shooting death of Byron Hammond in a wooded area near St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington. Moore was tried for the murder four times in D.C. Superior Court, and each trial resulted in a hung jury. Finally, in 2001, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges. At the conclusion of those trials, a number of jurors pointed to a lack of physical evidence tying Moore to the crime scene, as well as unreliable witness testimony. “In the prior case I felt the prosecutions against him were unjustified,” says another lawyer who previously defended Moore. In each of Moore’s four trials stemming from the 1994 murder, the government relied heavily on witnesses who had criminal records. A few of the witnesses, who themselves were facing prison terms, testified in exchange for favorable treatment upon sentencing. And while Rothstein acknowledged in court last week that the government’s witnesses in this case, “frankly, are not very nice people,” he was quick to point out that they were promised nothing in exchange for testifying. The government’s star witness in the case is Tyrone Thomas, who prosecutors say transported drugs for the organization and who was caught with four kilograms of cocaine in March 2004. After he was arrested, prosecutors say that Thomas agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Court records indicate Thomas has not been charged in the District, and, according to defense lawyers in the Moore case, he is a free man as long as he continues to cooperate. Zucker pointed out to the jury that Thomas never once mentioned Moore during his grand jury testimony, suggesting a witness in his position is likely to say whatever the government wants to hear to ensure his own freedom.
Sarah Kelley can be contacted at [email protected].

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