Parties Prepare for New Murder Trial Following Successful Appeal

A judge scheduled a murder defendant to go to trial again in January 2023 after the DC Court of Appeals reversed his convictions.

In October 2017, a jury found Stanley Moghalu guilty of 11 charges, including first-degree murder while armed in the death of 27-year-old Ronald Smith and the non-fatal-shooting of another man on Nov. 14, 2011.

The prosecution alleged that an individual took the two victims to 21st and M Street, NE, to buy the drug PCP when Dwayne Williams shot Smith in the head and Moghalu shot the other man several times, according to court documents. 

The shooting was believed to be an act of retaliation against Smith for his role as a government witness in the investigation into Ervin Griffin’s homicide earlier that year. David Warren went on to be convicted of first-degree murder in Griffin’s death, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Williams took a plea deal and was sentenced to 11 years in prison for second-degree murder while armed, assault with a dangerous weapon, obstructing justice and conspiracy obstructing justice. Moghalu was sentenced to 75-and-a-half years.

After appealing, Moghalu was granted a new trial due to the court’s requirement that his counsel disclose their defense strategy of trying to demonstrate that another person commit the alleged crimes – also known as a Third-Party Perpetrator (TPP) defense – to the prosecution ahead of trial.

“We now clarify that the government is not entitled to know of a third party perpetrator defense pretrial, that (per Winfield) the government has no need to know of a third party perpetrator defense pretrial and that it is an error for a trial court to direct pretrial disclosure of a third party perpetrator defense to the government,”  Associate DC Court of Appeals Judge Catharine Easterly wrote in the concurring opinion.

While preparing for the first trial, defense attorney Jonathan Zucker informed the judge outside of open court that he intends to “elicit TPP evidence” from a cooperating witness for the prosecution in this case, according to court documents. After reviewing the DC case United States v. Winfield, which asserts that counsel may admit evidence that a third person committed the crime at trial if “facts or circumstances tend to indicate a ‘reasonable possibility that such person committed charged offense,” the judge decided that the prosecution should have a say on if the TPP defense should be allowed.

While the Winfield case notes that questions about the admissibility of TPP evidence “should normally be resolved as a preliminary matter before trial,” the Court of Appeals maintained that the case did not mandate the defense strategy be disclosed to the prosecution. The court also cited the U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Bowman, which precludes the court from ordering the disclosure of any affirmative defense prior to trial, with a few specific exceptions. 

The decision came last November. Moghalu now awaits transfer from federal prison back to DC Jail. During the Dec. 20 proceedings, defense attorneys Zucker and Thomas Healy said that once their client is back in the District, they plan to speak with him about a potential resolution to the case. 

Still, DC Superior Court Judge Marisa Demeo scheduled the new trial to begin on Jan. 4, 2023, if parties do not reach a plea agreement. 

The next hearing in this case is scheduled for Feb. 8.