Court of Appeals upholds Lincoln County murder conviction

Published 8:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2024

The Mississippi Court of Appeals has upheld the first-degree murder conviction and sentence for Richard Wendell Moates.

In December 2020, 29-year-old Moates, of Horn Lake, was arrested in Lincoln County when Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputies responded to reports of a male who had been shot in the chest on Haley Trail in Wesson. The victim, Tyler McLeod, was transported to King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven where he was later pronounced dead.

Moates was arrested while leaving the scene via his white Ford F-250 truck.

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In October 2022, a Lincoln County jury found Moates guilty of first-degree murder; burglary of a dwelling under circumstances “likely to terrorize the occupants” (home invasion); and simple domestic violence, after he went to his estranged wife’s home and shot and killed her boyfriend in front of her.

Moates moved for judgment disregarding the jury’s verdict or a new trial. Following a hearing, Circuit Court Judge Michael M. Taylor denied both requests.

The court sentenced Moats to six months in prison for the domestic violence conviction; 25 years for the home invasion (15 suspended and 10 to serve, with 5 years post-release supervision); and life in prison for the murder conviction. He was also fined $10,000. The years to serve are consecutive in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

On appeal, Moates asserted the trial court erred by denying his motion to sever the murder charge from the others; by allowing the State to introduce prior-bad-acts evidence against him; that the evidence was insufficient for a simple domestic violence conviction; and that the convictions for murder and home invasion should be reversed and he be granted a new trial on those counts.

On Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, the Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences.

Court testimony showed that Moates had arranged a visit with his estranged wife Cortney to visit for Christmas with her and their children. After Cortney and the children had returned home from a dinner meeting with Moates, Moates texted her that their son had told him he had two daddys, and — referring to McLeod — “He is dead before I leave.” He also texted Cortney’s mother, “I am going to kill him.”

Moates then sent multiple threatening messages to McLeod via Facebook, and went to Cortney’s home on Haley Trail, where he forcibly entered the home, threatened both her and McLeod, and shot McLeod twice.

The Court of Appeals referenced Mississippi Code Ann. § 99-7-2(1) which allows the counts to be charged all together due to evidence proving the crimes were interwoven. The trial court denied Moates’ severance motion, finding it would be improper because each crime occurred within “a very short … window of time” and arose from common facts.

The Court of Appeals upheld this denial, as well as the admission of prior bad behavior, because “we find that the evidence was [revealing] of Moates’ state of mind — whether he acted intentionally or in the heat of passion.”

The Court also determined that evidence was sufficient to prove simple domestic violence in this case.

The decision was affirmed by all nine Court of Appeals justices who reviewed the case — Chief Judge Donna M. Barnes, Presiding Judge Jack L. Wilson, Jim M. Greenlee, Latrice A. Westbrooks, Deborah McDonald, Anthony N. Lawrence III, Neil McCarty, Joel Smith, and John H. Emfinger.