A strait-laced Baptist stood in a Bloomington courtroom Friday and tried to explain the death of a Purdue University psychologist he shot and killed in 2008.
The gunman, John R. Moore III, said he was protecting his three children and his wife from a sexual pervert. But for the victim’s family and friends, it was execution.
“There’s not justification for murder,” a friend of the victim yelled before storming out of the court.
The sentencing in the Monroe County Circuit Court lasted about 10 hours, culminating in the judge’s decision to send Moore, a 49-year-old Bloomington man, to prison for 30 years.
For most of the sentencing, Moore sat next to his attorney, facing forward, looking at the walls, at the table, at a wooden pencil — anywhere but the audience of the victim’s friends, family and colleagues who quietly filled the courtroom.
Friends of the victim, Steven Morris, walked up to a podium where they talked about the loss. Some cried, some made icy eye contact with Moore, some just clutched their statements in shaky hands.
Morris had a “generosity of spirit,” one colleague said.
He was kind and caring toward his patients and inspired confidence in those he mentored. Around his family he was “like a grown-up kid,” Morris’ sister Jo Linda Cohen said.
“He was a good man and a good father, and he did not deserve to be murdered,” Cohen said.
Family and friends of the psychologist only knew one side of Moore — a killer. But for those who knew the gunman, the murder was an anomaly.
The defendant was a highly decorated Afghanistan war veteran. He was a man who colleagues said saved the lives of hundreds of civilians and soldiers.
“He was a guy you could count on every day and trust with your life,” said a man who worked with Moore in Afghanistan.
He had no criminal history until one night in 2008, when he entered his wife’s house in Ellettsville and killed Morris.
Moore walked to the witness stand to explain what happened on that night in 2008.
A religious man, Moore said he believed in family values. His wife home-schooled their children. Each time he left to go overseas was a struggle, Moore said.
“My wife and I,” Moore said, “we did the best we could.”
It was agony, he said, leaving his family to serve his country, but he kept communicating with his wife through e-mails and Skype chats. The lifestyle was tough, but they stuck together.
Moore said he was working in Afghanistan as a defense contractor for Blackwater in 2008 when his wife, Laurie, sent him a disturbing e-mail. She said she was having an affair with Morris. Their marriage of 24 years was over.
Moore’s time overseas had been the most stressful of his career, and he decided to fly home to deal with the affair in person. Back in Indiana, Moore learned that his wife met Morris through a “bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism” Web site.
“She said a man had been keeping her in a relationship she didn’t want,” Moore said. “I could tell it wasn’t her.”
Gary Dunn, a former FBI agent and private investigator hired by the defense, said Laurie Moore was in contact with several men she met on the BDSM Web site, collarme.com.
She told Morris she loved him and called him “master.” Dunn said diary entries and e-mails indicated Morris was able to manipulate her physically and mentally.
Moore said he was also concerned for his three children. Dunn said Laurie Moore missed her son’s birthday to go stay with Morris in West Lafayette.
On another occasion, she brought their college-age daughter to a motel, locking her out of the room to have sex with Morris.
The daughter pounded on the door, then went downstairs to the lobby where she fell asleep. By the time she woke up, Laurie Moore and Morris had left, leaving her at the motel.
Moore sobbed on the stand as he talked about his children, his marriage and his wife’s relationship with the Purdue psychologist.
“I know he cared about his family,” Moore said. “He just didn’t care about my family.”
All Moore wanted, he said during his statement, was for his wife to stop interacting with the BDSM community.
After his return from Afghanistan, Moore moved out and filed for divorce. His wife secured a protective order against him. But on the night of Oct. 19, 2008, he violated that order and drove to her house.
When he pulled into the driveway and got out of the car, he tucked his gun in his back pocket. He entered the house and heard his 9-year-old son playing a video game in the upstairs loft.
The house was decorated with balloons and signs for Morris’ upcoming 60th birthday.
In the next room, Moore busted down the barricaded bedroom door and found his wife in bed with Morris.
He told his wife to take his son out of the house and she ran out, naked from the waist down. Moore and the psychologist were the only two left in the room.
“I wanted to hurt him,” Moore said.
He shot Morris twice — once in the chest and once in the head — and walked out of the house, passing his wife and son on the way.
“Please get my son out of here,” Moore remembered telling his wife as he walked out.
Blood soaked through the wood floors and into the room below, a detective testified at the sentencing.
From the witness stand, Moore apologized to the family and friends of the psychologist.
“I believe what Steven Morris did was wrong,” Moore said, “but he definitely did not deserve to die, and I’m sorry.”
Family and friends of Morris asked for a 50-year prison term, the maximum time an individual can receive for manslaughter, while Fred Turner, the defendant’s attorney, asked for 20.
“This is going to take ... awhile,” said Judge Kenneth Todd as he prepared to break and review the case.
For both parties, it was a battle of good versus evil. Or, as Turner said, it was a question of good people making bad decisions.
“It’s a tragic story of an otherwise outstanding member of society and what a horrible mistake he made,” Turner said.
After two hours of deliberation, Judge Todd walked back into the courtroom.
“We’re all imperfect human beings,” he said. “Living in bitterness and regret will eat us from the inside.”
Judge Todd issued the sentence. Everyone stood, and the case ended like it began – with quiet.