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2012-11-29

Moore, Odom - do 'old sins cast long shadows?'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Going through the myriad documents collected by Beverly Hays and Brenda Briggs chronicling the steps that led to the seemingly inexorable incarceration of Jesse Ray Moore is just plain bad business.
The endless mounds of paperwork detail allegations of frequent beatings, neglect, alcoholism, drug addiction, fetal alcoholism syndrome and habitual sexual molestation, among other aberrant behavior. The adults and children that made up the Odom-Moore family in the early 2000s certainly did not resemble the Cleavers of "Leave It to Beaver" fame.
In 2002, after pleading guilty to aggravated sexual assault of his 7-year-old half sister, Heather Moore, Jesse Ray Moore, then 13, began serving a 15-year sentence, first with the Texas Youth Commission until he turned 16. In February 2006, he was transferred to the Gib Lewis Unit in Woodville, the institutional division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Recently, Moore was moved to the maximum security Connally Unit near the city of Kenedy in Karnes County.
Victim recants
However, since his conviction and incarceration, Briggs and Hays, Moore's aunt and grandmother, respectively, have worked tirelessly to have the case reopened. Long and loudly, have they proclaimed Moore's innocence, instead blaming the sexual assaults of his half sister, now 18, on the children's then stepfather, Michael Paul Odom.
Currently, Odom faces trials for the sexual assault of a 14-year-old babysitter in 2001 and for his stepdaughter in 2002. His trials have been moved from Bandera County to Kendall County and are expected to take place in the spring. According to Assistant District Attorney Steven Wadsworth of the 216th Judicial District, an attorney from the Office of the Texas Attorney General is expected to take over prosecution of the cases.
Hays and Briggs received some measure of vindication when Heather Moore recanted her original charge that her half-brother was involved in the sexual assault. Her retraction couldn't have taken place in a more public venue. Brushing back tears, she told her story to WOAI investigative reporter Brian Collister. Heather Moore told Collister it was her stepfather, Michael Odom, who had repeatedly sexually assaulted her all those years ago. Additionally, she claimed that her mother, Jennifer Moore, had insisted she blame her brother, Jesse Ray, whom she called "Bubba", for the molestation. "I shouldn't have done it, but I was just a baby," Heather Moore told Collister.
In 2002, Heather Moore had apparently informed authorities that Odom had assaulted her, but her accusations seem not to have been fully investigated at that time.
No attorney present
For his part, Jesse Ray Moore said he confessed to the crime after a lengthy interrogation without benefit of an attorney. On camera, he said, "They pretty much forced me into saying I did it." Former Bandera County Attorney Kerry Schneider prosecuted the case.
A 2003 report filed on Jennifer Odom seems to underscore Jesse Ray's contention and Heather's recantation.
As the interviewer noted: "I am convinced that she believes that Michael molested Heather although she never said this. Heather believes that her mother not only failed to protect her but allowed the abuse to happen. The prognosis is poor. (Jennifer Odom) feels the life that Michael has provided her is threatened by Heather's cry for help."
In 1999, a report detailed examples of Jesse Moore's "acting out," which included purported physical attacks on his mother and half sister, slashing tires and a school bus seat and burning down a neighbor's shed, among other incidents.
As early as 2001, there were indications that Michael and Jennifer Moore had neglected their children, often leaving Jesse to care for his siblings, Heather and two toddlers. Also, that same year, a report detailed Odom's alleged molestation of a 14-year-old babysitter and his stepdaughter.
A 2002 report stated that when Odom began hitting Jesse Ray Moore with "fists and open hands," the 12 year old blacked out. Later, bruising was reported on his neck, chest and by his ear. According to the report, Odom also purportedly slapped Heather across the head and threw her across the room. "The mother was aware of the abuse, but did nothing to prevent it. She blamed Jesse for Mr. Odom's abusive behavior to him," the report indicated.
Cold cases heat up
Sgt. Jose Barreto, formerly head of the of the Bandera County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation Division, reopened the 2001 cold case sexual assault of the 14-year-old babysitter. To bolster the case, he subpoenaed records kept by Child Protective Services in Kerrville. Barreto later requested all records detailing similar complaints lodged previously against Odom. "At the time, I was not aware there were so many," he said.
Regarding the subsequent investigation of the babysitter's allegations, Barreto said, "Nothing seemed to have been done on this case," he reiterated. "There was no follow-up. The complaint was filed in June and the case was closed in July." He said the girl involved ostensibly was not available for an interview so after consulting with then-Chief Deputy Matt King, former BCSO Investigator Mike Bolton closed the case.
Interestingly, Barreto did not find records of any interviews conducted with Odom about the alleged sexual assault complaint.
Due to a lack of forensic evidence, Barreto needed to show a consistent behavioral pattern by Odom to build his case.
Pattern of behavior
According to Barreto, the pattern continued in Bexar County where officers with the Sex Crime Unit of the San Antonio Police Department investigated complaints that Odom allegedly sexually assaulted two former stepdaughters and one of their friends - all juveniles.
"This shows another pattern," Barreto speculated. "Mr. Odom consistently marries women with small children and proceeds to groom those children for his purposes."
Additionally, Odom was employed as a bus driver for the Northside Independent School District from August 2006 to April 2007. During that time, school administrators received a complaint that he had sent nine questionable text messages to a 16-year-old student. The messages, the girl indicated in an interview, "made her feel uncomfortable."
"The school district handled the matter internally and Mr. Odom resigned while being investigated for inappropriate behavior," Barreto said. However, all interviews pertinent to the complaint remain in Barreto's file on Odom.
'Sounds like
confession'
For his part, Odom and his attorney deny all charges, pointing out that Odom had previously passed two polygraph tests. However, because of Barreto's persistence, two grand juries have indicted Odom for sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault in the two cold cases. In the spring, he will face juries in Kendall County for crimes he allegedly committed more than a decade ago.
Until then, Odom remains free on bonds totaling $70,000 with sex offender restrictions. Jesse Ray Moore remains incarcerated. Heather Moore remains racked with guilt and Hays and Briggs pray that justice will be served at last.
Reading a quote that Odom reportedly said after leaving a courtroom in Kendall County, Hays noted, "He said, 'People are bringing up a past that needs to be dropped.' That sounds like he did something then that he wants forgotten now. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a confession to me."