What will Gwinnett woman facing death penalty trial tell her jury?

Defendant acting as her own lawyer has said little thus far during court proceedings

The death penalty trial of Tiffany Moss begins in earnest Wednesday morning with opening statements by the prosecution and the defense.

A looming question is what exactly will Moss say, if anything, to the jury of six men and six women. That's because Moss, who is accused of starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter Emani to death in 2013is representing herself as her own attorney.

No jury in Georgia has handed down a death sentence in more than five years. That drought could end over the next two weeks as Moss, 35, faces off against two highly experienced and accomplished prosecutors — Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter and Lisa Jones, one of his chief assistants.

At a recent pretrial hearing, Porter said he would allow Moss to plead guilty to Emani’s murder if she’d accept a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. That offer would stand only until a jury was selected, he said.

With 12 jurors and four alternates seated on Tuesday afternoon, that offer is off the table, at least for now.

During the early stages of jury selection, Moss was polite and pleasant, often flashing a smile when responding to questions from Superior Court Judge George Hutchinson or the few times she asked questions to prospective jurors. But as the selection process dragged on into its fifth and sixth days, Moss' smile all but disappeared. She also declined to ask anything to prospective jurors.

“No questions, your honor,” Moss said time and time again.

On Tuesday, Moss sat alone again at the defense table facing the gallery as sets of potential jurors were brought into the courtroom.

To get the 12-person jury, a pool of 42 potential jurors was required. That’s because both the prosecution and the defense get to use 15 “strikes” — or chances to eliminate the jurors they don’t want to hear the case.

During this process, a clerk passed a list with the jurors’ names back and forth between Porter and Moss. As they alternately jotted down their strikes on the paper, the clerk crossed through the names of those who’d been eliminated.

When it was over, 12 names remained. They include a 24-year-old triage nurse, a third-grade teacher, a salesman with three daughters, and a woman who manages research and development contracts. None looked happy when told they had been picked for the trial.

Even though she kept quiet, Moss exercised all 15 of her allotted strikes, Porter said after court adjourned. “She didn’t waste them.”

Moss was initially appointed two lawyers, Brad Gardner and Emily Gilbert, from the State Office of the Capital Defender. After she refused their representation and said she wished to go it alone, Hutchinson appointed Gardner and Gilbert to be Moss’ “standby counsel.” They sit in the gallery behind Moss ready to help when needed.

During the seven days of jury selection, Moss asked for their help on a few occasions. And Tuesday, after jurors were sent home and court adjourned, Gardner and Gilbert accompanied Moss into a holding cell outside the courtroom.

If the jurors find Moss guilty of murder, they will have to decide whether to sentence her to life in prison with the possibility of parole, life in prison without parole, or death by lethal injection. The trial is expected to end sometime next week.

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