Cobb County prosecutors accuse a man of orchestrating a 2014 murder and its cover-up so he could become the full owner of a Woodstock bakery.
Ross Byrne, 54, was arrested at the bakery Thursday on charges that include malice murder and racketeering in the stabbing death of Jerry L. Moore, court records show. A grand jury indicted him earlier that day.
Byrne’s indictment comes 10 days after Johnathan Allan Wheeler was found guilty of stabbing Moore to death 32 times. He was sentenced to life in prison without a chance of parole.
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Mugshot of Ross Byrne (Cobb County Sheriff's Office)
The fact that Byrne had not also been charged confused many people in the courtroom at the start of Wheeler’s trial.
At the start of the trial, prosecutor Jesse Evans described Byrne as “uncharged co-conspirator” during his opening statement. But he never offered a reason why Byrne hadn’t been charged.
Kevin Rodgers, the attorney who represented Wheeler, didn’t understand either. “Why not is beyond me,” Rodgers said during his opening remarks to the jury. “I represent one at a time.”
The district attorney’s office declined to comment Thursday when asked why Byrne was charged now in the 46-year-old man’s killing.
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Prosecutors explain in the indictment that Byrne and Moore became 50-50 partners of Best Dang Bakery Around, located on Ga. 92, in January 2008. They held different roles: Bryne baked and Moore was the money man.
Each half of the business was estimated to be worth $35,000 at the time. The partnership agreement said that a buyout of one partner would cost that much. Or, if one of the partners died, then the other got his share. So with Moore dead, Byrne got full control of the business.
Johnathan Allan Wheeler (Cobb County Sheriff's Office)
The two lived together for seven years. Prosecutors said correspondence and financial records showed the personal and business relationships between the two men began to fall apart in late 2013.
Moore felt Byrne had a spending problem and was running the business into the ground, according to the indictment.
By New Year’s Day 2014, Byrne had moved out of Moore’s Gracewood Drive home and Moore had drafted terms to end their business partnership. And Byrne knew.
No one picked up the phone at the bakery Thursday.
Wheeler briefly worked for Byrne at the bakery cooking Eastern European pastries, but he wasn’t very good, prosecutors said.
The pair stayed in touch after Wheeler left. He considered Byrne a business mentor.
The state alleges that, with the business failing and Byrne soured on his former roommate, he created the plan to kill Moore.
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Phone records show that Byrne was in touch with Wheeler “before, during and after” the murder, according to prosecutors.
Wheeler went over to Moore’s home a couple days before Snowmageddon in 2014 and stabbed the man in what Evans, a prosecutor in Wheeler’s case, described as “one of the most brutal murders you’ll see.”
Moore’s body was found lying near a blood-splattered cardboard box of Christmas lights.
Prosecutors said the murder weapon was a novelty knife etched with the words “Redneck Toothpick,” but it was never found.
After the murder, Wheeler went to Byrne’s Woodstock home to shower off, according to the indictment. Byrne gave the man a change of clothes.
Wheeler and his female cousin went back to the house to steal some items and stage the scene so it looked like a home invasion.
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Wheeler’s cousin, Cynthia Hope Wheeler, was one of the state’s main witness in his murder trial, which was a condition of her plea deal. Prosecutors said Wheeler confessed the killing to her. She was sentenced on tampering and burglary charges in 2016 for cleaning up the home and stealing Moore’s TV, computer and car keys.
Byrne paid all the expenses on a trip with Wheeler and his cousin to the Key West area in Florida, prosecutors said. He also paid bills for them and bought them vehicles.
Wheeler was arrested in August 2014 after phone records linked him to the crime; he and Byrne stayed in touch for years after.
Investigators have recordings of jailhouse calls between the two men, and a letter between them was taken from Byrne when authorities searched his home and the bakery Tuesday, according to the indictment.
Byrne remained in Cobb jail without bond Thursday afternoon, records show.
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