Former deputy jailers sentenced: Messer gets 20 years for role in 2018 inmate death

Sep. 7—CATLETTSBURG — Three former Boyd County deputy jailers will have a view from the other side of the bars over the next several years.

On Thursday, Zachary Messer received the harshest sentence — 20 years in prison — of the five past Boyd County Detention Center employees connected to the Nov. 29, 2018, death of inmate Michael Lee Moore.

Colton Griffith was sentenced to six years. Jeremy Mattox will serve a five-year sentence.

Determined in mediation, the sentences punctuated a nearly five-year-long court saga following Moore's death.

Brad Roberts and Alicia Beller were the other two involved.

Roberts, of Westwood, was the sergeant and night-shift supervisor on duty upon Moore's booking. Now 33 years old, Roberts was sentenced to 15 years in prison back in November 2021.

Beller, of Putnam, West Virginia, sat in the control room for most of Moore's stay. She agreed to a plea deal in exchange for testimony and cooperation. She had a five-year diverted sentence stemming from a first-degree wanton endangerment charge.

On Thursday, Boyd County Commonwealth's Attorney Rhonda Copley reminded everyone that "we're not here to try the case" following a lengthy statement by David Mussetter, Griffith's attorney.

Mussetter, Andrew Markelonis (on behalf of Mattox) and Charles Johnson (on behalf of Messer) read statements that expressed remorse for the defendants' actions in November 2018 and they all said each accepted full responsibility and consequences.

Judge George Davis announced the sentences based upon the agreement of the parties at mediation for each former deputy jailer.

Davis pronounced 20 years for Messer — 10 years for first-degree criminal abuse, five for second-degree criminal abuse and five for facilitation to manslaughter.

Griffith will serve six total years — consecutive three-year sentences on two counts of second-degree criminal abuse — in a state penitentiary.

Mattox got five years in prison for second-degree criminal abuse.

Moore was in jail custody for about 38 hours before being pronounced deceased by blunt force trauma to the torso. He was in a restraint chair for a large chunk of that time and later fell from a top bunk multiple times after suffering "seizure-like" activity. Medical aid was not rendered.

The jury in the Roberts trial saw 28 total videos in 2021. Video footage shows Moore entering BCDC at 8:49 p.m. on Nov. 27, 2018. He was high on baclofen and was erratic when arrested, according to past testimony from his sister-in-law.

Brenda Murphy, Moore's aunt, read prepared statements to each defendant in the circuit courtroom on Thursday. She told each one she forgives them but will never forget what they did to her nephew.

To Messer, a 33-year-old of Ashland who stands at about 6-foot-6, she said while he's big in stature, he's small in character.

"You beat a man for kicks," Murphy said. "You tortured for giggles. You killed a man because you are used to doing what you want without consequence. Now, there are consequences. You have to serve your time."

Murphy reminded Messer and everyone present on Thursday that the former guard violently slammed Moore's face into the wall.

According to Copley during the 2021 trial involving Roberts, Messer shoved Moore into a toilet, which caused fractured ribs.

"His ribs were cracked, leading to his lungs filling with blood," Murphy said on Thursday.

Earlier testimony revealed Messer did a leg sweep on the inmate and body-slammed him while he was handcuffed or restrained in a chair.

"I hope you learn how to treat people and learn the importance of human life," Murphy said to Messer.

Messer was initially supposed to stand trial first — dating back to January 2020 — but a series of postponements and illness (cancer) were factors in that delay and the ultimate plea agreement.

Defense attorneys, including Messer's, said their clients were inadequately trained and working in a poorly run jail at the time.

Five days following Moore's death, then-jailer Joe Burchett resigned after two years of turmoil, which included a riot, escapes and overdoses at the jail.

Mussetter called the jail "dysfunctional" and that Moore never received appropriate medical care.

The longtime lawyer said Ashland Police failed at its job, too, by not getting Moore what he deemed necessary medical aid before transporting him to the detention center. He was taken to Boyd County Jail on a public intoxication arrest.

"(Moore) was in a bad way, and under the influence," Mussetter said. The attorney said there was no standard protocol for his client, Griffith, of Flatwoods, to follow — unlike when someone is drunk.

Murphy, in her statement to Griffith, said, "What gets me is that you acted like you didn't care in the video. You came out of the bathroom as if you were an MMA fighter rolling up your sleeves. To beat it all, your disposition and other court appearances were unapologetic. ... You were instrumental in killing a human being."

In Murphy's statement to Mattox, of Grayson, she acknowledged that Moore had gotten involved with the wrong people.

She asked Mattox: "Did you get involved in the wrong crowd? Did you follow people? You stood by as he was abused."

Mattox nodded as he listened to Murphy.

"You thought it was funny because you doubled over laughing like a hyena," said Murphy, reiterating Copley's remarks about Mattox. "I still don't get the joke. If it didn't cost a life, it was still cruel to participate, watch and laugh at a helpless individual being beaten to death. However, the price for those 36 hours was a human life. Do you still think it to be funny? Do you think it is a joke?"

Katrina Caudill, a relative of Moore's, read a cumulative statement to all three former deputy jailers. She remembered Moore as a humble, kind and caring man who served his country.

"Your family still gets to see your faces, hear your voices," Caudill said. "You'll get to enjoy holidays, making new memories. The only visits we get are spent at his graveside."

Caudill called Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, "the sweet day Michael finally receives justice."

"Our family can try to pick up the pieces and move forward," she said.

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