Trial date set for woman accused of starving step-daughter to death

Gwinnett County, Ga. — The Gwinnett County woman accused of starving her stepdaughter to death and burning the 10-year-old’s body in 2013 has learned the date of her death penalty trial.

Superior Court Judge George Hutchinson set the first phase of Tiffany Moss's jury selection and orientation for April 8, 2019. That's when the people who received jury summonses will be in hearings as they seek to be excused from the jury pool. The heart of jury selection begins the following week, April 15.

In court Thursday afternoon, Tiffany Moss had little to say in a status conference that lasted barely five minutes. Shackled and wearing a green jumpsuit, she responded politely, with a "No, sir," when the judge asked her if she needed anything as she prepares to represent herself in her death penalty case. She told him she had no questions.

Emani Moss, her stepdaughter, weighed only 32 pounds when her burned body was found in a trash bin outside her family's Lawrenceville apartment. The girl's father, Eman Moss, has already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the state. He is serving life without the possibility of parole.

While Moss says she has received divine guidance to act as her own attorney, lawyers Brad Gardner and Emily Gilbert from the state Office of the Capital Defender remain her legal advisors on standby in the case. The state Supreme Court has essentially said that Moss has made no mistakes representing herself and can continue to act as her own attorney.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter says he has never tried a death penalty case in which the defendant does not have legal representation.

He's aware of another case--though not in his jurisdiction--in which a death penalty defendant represented himself at trial. Jamie Hood, accused of killing an Athens-Clarke County police officer, did not get himself acquitted but he did get a sentence of life without the possibility of parole instead of being sent to death row. He says Hood did not need help in the case because he seemed to know what he was doing.

But Moss, he notes, is not preparing for her death penalty trial in any traditional way.

"There are boxes of discovery out at the jail. She has not requested access to that, and she has not requested access to the law library," says Porter.

Is it a fair fight?

"I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it's as fair as it can be under the circumstances," says Porter, “and that’s going to be part of the challenge of the case.” He says it remains to be seen just how much help Moss will need at trial. He already knows that he will have to do certain things and ask certain questions to protect the record, because there’s no defense attorney making tactical decisions. But maybe she’s preparing in another way, he says.

"She's confident. In hearings, she's very confident. She's completely ready to go, is what she says."

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