A Gwinnett County woman acting as her own lawyer declined to offer an opening statement as her death penalty trial got underway Wednesday. Tiffany Moss also didn't ask a single question of the five witnesses who testified against her.
The proceedings began with a devastating opening by District Attorney Danny Porter, who told jurors that Moss intentionally starved her 10-year-old stepdaughter Emani to death in the fall of 2013. Then Moss and her husband tried to cover up the death by burning Emani's 32-pound body in a galvanized trash can, he said.
“This is a terrible case,” Porter said. “The facts of this case are difficult.”
» PHOTOS | Day One of the Tiffany Moss murder trial
There will be photos of Emani that will make you want to look away, Porter told jurors. “But in order to reach the truth, you can’t flinch. You have to face it.”
Porter described how Tiffany Moss once beat the young girl with a belt, leaving welts all over her body. After Emani Moss died, Tiffany Moss and Emani’s father put her body in a trash can, drove it to a remote area and lit the remains on fire, Porter said. When the body failed to burn to ashes, the couple put the trash can back into their SUV. It remained there for a few days until Eman Moss, the father, called police to report the death.
After Porter finished, Superior Court Judge George Hutchinson told Moss it was her turn. Moss then rose from her seat and declined to give an opening statement, prompting surprised looks by jurors and observers throughout the packed courtroom.
After Porter told Hutchinson it is a defendant’s right to reserve an opening statement until the close of the state’s case, the judge asked Moss if she intended to give her opening statement then.
“No, your honor,” Moss said.
Moss has refused representation by two capital public defenders, who sit in the courtroom gallery as standby counsel and ready to assist her when needed. In prior court filings, they disclosed that Moss suffers from brain damage. Yet Hutchinson found Moss competent to stand trial and allowed her to represent herself.