Largely estranged from the family farm he desperately wanted to run, Peter Moore testified Monday that he allowed a cousin to "poison" him with information about happenings on the ranch and, specifically, about the foreman running the show.
The so-called poison prompted Peter Moore to make allegations and threats that left him looking awfully suspicious when that foreman, Roberto Ayala, died in a deliberate blast while trying to irrigate fields.
Ultimately it was Moore's cousin, Paul, who ended up charged with murder. Nonetheless, Peter Moore still finds himself fending off blatant suggestions by the defense that he was responsible for Ayala's death.
"I regret saying those words," Peter Moore said Monday, head hanging, after repeated questions about a threat he once made against Ayala.
"OK, I'm sure you do," said defense attorney Linda Parisi.
At times appearing vulnerable and other times agitated, Peter Moore said he learned a "valuable lesson" after Ayala's July 2011 death. He pledged to better control his mouth in the future though he did not hold back in describing his hatred of some in the Moore family, including his father, Gus, and uncle Roger, who now own the farm.
Peter Moore admitted being nervous, became emotional when speaking of his grandfather and two sons, and testified about giving up duck hunting because he now prefers "to watch them fly." Throughout nearly a day of testimony, he sought to paint himself as a victim of family dysfunction.
"Paul's been poisoning me for over a year and eight months," Peter Moore said. "I don't even know what's true anymore."
Prosecutors have acknowledged that Peter Moore was their first suspect. But lacking evidence of his guilt, District Attorney John Poyner told The Bee last week, authorities set their sights on his cousin, Paul.
They allege that Paul didn't like Ayala nor did he like the fact that Ayala appeared more likely to inherit the family farm than himself. And in court Monday, Parisi seemed to suggest Peter had much the same motivation.
The case is being heard in Sacramento County because of concerns that a fair trial couldn't be held in close-knit Colusa County, where the Moore Brothers Farm is big business.
The farm was established by Richard and Mimi Moore and passed to their sons, Roger and Gus. Roger's son, Paul, had recently returned to the farm for work after an injury in the construction business. Peter claimed his involvement in the farm ended after his beloved grandfather died and his father and uncle took charge.
A key piece of evidence initially suggesting Peter Moore's guilt was a text message he sent Paul saying that once Ayala's "wing" had mended his arm was in a sling at the time Ayala "is all mine."
Peter Moore testified that the text message followed a series of allegations by Paul Moore that Ayala had been talking trash about Peter.
Paul told his cousin that Ayala said he was stupid and good for nothing but picking up trash around the ranch, Peter testified. Ayala also had reportedly said that Gus Moore had cut Peter out of his will, and that Ayala was likely to reap what Peter wouldn't, according to Peter's testimony.
He further testified that his relationship with Ayala already was tense, and that Paul's reports prompted the rage. But he said he only meant to beat up Ayala, not kill him. A boxer in high school, Peter Moore said his father taught him at a young age to resolve conflicts with his fists, followed by a handshake.
Peter Moore said his dislike of the man didn't run deep enough to amount to murder.
"I've never resented Robert. I never wanted his job, I wanted my father's job," Peter Moore said. "I wanted to farm my grandfather's land and I wanted to do it myself."
Under questioning by David Druliner, a special prosecutor with the state attorney general's office, Peter Moore testified that he had never heard his cousin say a kind thing about Ayala, and that Paul's jealousy ran deep.
Peter recalled his cousin once saying of Ayala and his relatives working on the farm: "I hate those sons of (expletive). They're trying to take over my life," according to Peter's testimony.
"Robert had an in with my father and my uncle that Paul felt he didn't have, that's what I got from (our conversations)," he said.
Under questioning from both attorneys, Peter Moore claimed not to have the kind of knowledge likely needed to have assembled the bomb that killed Ayala.
Nonetheless, Parisi tried to paint Peter Moore as desperate for money, sick of his landscaping business and hungry to take over the farm.
And in heated exchanges with the witness, she hammered on examples of his volatile temper, including one incident in which he threatened to tear his neighbor's head off and depending on the testimony defecate or breathe fire down his throat.
"I am not happy or proud of the way I ran my mouth in my life," Peter Moore told the court.
Peter Moore's testimony is expected to continue today.
Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @kim_minugh.