Likening the case to a "Shakespearean tragedy," a state appeals court on Tuesday upheld the murder conviction in a 2011 Colusa County bombing.
The 3rd District Court of Appeals said it found no reason to overturn the guilty verdict in Paul Moore's 2013 trial. Moore was convicted of killing Roberto Ayala.
"Paul was afforded a fair trial. His trial lawyer provided excellent representation and advocacy. But 12 jurors of Paul's peers found that the circumstantial evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he murdered Roberto Ayala, and we must respect their verdict," the appeals court said in a 33-page decision.
Ayala's death on the Moore family farm "occurred against the backdrop of great family disharmony and dissension between the two principals in this deadly drama, Peter and Paul, cousins whose fathers were the sons of Richard and 'Mimi' Moore, owners of an 1,800-acre farm near Colusa. Neither cousin was happy with his place within the family hierarchy."
The appeals court noted Peter "was not allowed to farm and instead spent 21 years earning a living in a landscape business he apparently loathed at times. He had been angry and upset with the Moore family since he was 12 years old."
Paul "appears to have suffered more quietly than his cousin." But in a doc ment entitled 'My Life' that he stored on his computer, Paul complained bitterly about his life growing up on the farm. He felt mistreated by everyone, including Peter," the appeals court said.
Paul complained he was "treated worse than any employee, worked harder, but was never given a raise. He wrote that his father thought he was stupid, but continually raved about Roberto's intelligence. In describing his life, he pondered what he had done to be treated so poorly by his own family."
Paul and Peter "share similar grievances and similar life trajectories. Clearly, they both had hoped to assume managerial positions on the farm. Their hopes had not materialized," the court said.
"They attempted other ventures that failed — Paul in construction, Peter in starting a sod business. Both suffered physically. Paul injured his back and had to give up construction. Peter had his stomach removed and lost almost 50 pounds. Most significantly, they shared their animosity toward Roberto Ayala."
The court said there was "indeed sufficient evidence to support a reasonable inference that Paul had nursed a lifetime animosity toward nonfamily members his father appeared to favor. And Roberto Ayala, in particular, was the target of his wrath."
Ayala died in a July 2011 explosion, killed by "an explosive device that he unknowingly detonated at chest level. His body was still burning when the firefighters arrived. There were pieces of metal shrapnel in his chest, neck, and brain," the opinion said.
The appeals court described the murder case as a "classic whodunit. And it is particularly challenging because, as Paul argues on appeal, there are no witnesses, no fingerprints on any of the bomb parts, no DNA, no confessions, and no admissions. The evidence is all circumstantial.
"But it is the jury's prerogative, not ours, to weigh the evidence. The jurors had the opportunity to observe Paul throughout the trial and to assess Peter's credibility throughout his lengthy direct and cross-examinations. But apparently they had little difficulty reaching their verdict."
The court acknowledged "there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence that either Peter or Paul, or perhaps Peter and Paul together, built and planted the bomb that killed Roberto Ayala."
Paul's attorneys "raised important questions and offered a more than plausible alternative theory, but those questions were answered by the jury, and it rejected Paul's argument that Peter was the perpetrator," the court said.
Circumstantial evidence included two letters sent to investigators that were linked to Paul and his previous experience with wiretapping and building an oxygen-acetylene bomb.
"We cannot say the trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of a pattern of fascination and aptitude with building things, some requiring electrical aptitude and some that did not," the court said.
The trial's "family intrigue has all the earmarks of a Shakespearean tragedy and makes for compelling drama. Nevertheless, on the narrow legal questions presented, we find substantial evidence to support the verdict and no abuse of discretion in admitting evidence or denying the defense request for surrebuttal closing argument, and therefore affirm the judgment," the court said.
Paul Moore is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.