Prosecutors say a “significant mental health issue” was a key factor in why they agreed to let a man plead no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the death of a 79-year-old woman he apparently stomped to death.
Moses Trotter, 34, had been accused of murder in the July 15, 2012, killing of Carole Jane Sturgis in her Fair Oaks home. Trotter entered his plea to the reduced charge last Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court. Judge Helena R. Gweon is expected to sentence Trotter to 27 years in prison under the plea deal on Oct. 17.
Supervising Deputy District Attorney Rod Norgaard said Sturgis’ son-in-law, who would have been an important witness at Trotter’s murder trial, “very much wanted us to resolve this case.”
“Generally, we make our own independent judgment,” Norgaard said. “But in this case, the defendant had a significant mental health issue, and that issue was going to be utilized to undermine whether he could form the intent to kill.”
Norgaard called the proposed 27-year term – 11 years doubled due to a prior “strike” conviction, plus a five-year enhancement – “a very good resolution.”
Defense attorney Kelly Babineau said Trotter’s “compelling mental health issue contributed to this tragic incident.” Babineau did not describe her client’s condition or diagnosis. Court records do not indicate that Trotter had been evaluated for forensic purposes prior to the plea.
According to testimony by sheriff’s deputies and detectives at Trotter’s Feb. 22, 2013, preliminary hearing, he had entered at least one other house in Sturgis’ neighborhood before he ran past her son-in-law at the front door of her residence, locked him out and brutally battered the woman beyond recognition.
When deputies arrived at Sturgis’ house in the 7800 block of Olympia Way on the 7:26 p.m. call, they saw a naked man covered in blood who turned out to be Trotter running away.
Inside the house, they found a nightmarish scene with a body lying on the kitchen floor. Sturgis had been beaten so badly they couldn’t tell if the victim was a man or a woman, “there was so much trauma to the face,” one deputy testified. In the bathroom, they found the name “Moses” written in blood.
An autopsy said Sturgis died of blunt force trauma. She had suffered a fractured jaw, a broken sternum and ribs, a crushed larynx and lacerations to the back of her head. A detective testified the autopsy showed her injuries were consistent with having been stomped to death.
Deputies found Trotter’s blood-soaked clothing inside Sturgis’ house. In his wallet there was a laminated card that said “Ghetto Street Productions.” They also discovered a CD entitled “Moses Street Soldier” in the pocket of his pants he left inside Sturgis’ home.
Trotter is depicted in one YouTube video promoting the album and discussing his thoughts on the “the music game” in a bizarre, profanity-laced monologue.
Before Trotter admittedly killed Sturgis, a man and a woman who lived a block away were sitting down to eat in front of their television set when they heard water running in the bathroom, Detective Brian Meux testified. When they looked in the bathroom, they saw a shirtless Trotter holding a small American flag in his hand.
“See?” he told them.
The man ran Trotter out of the house. Outside, a group of neighbors had gathered and told the defendant, “You need to stop. The police are coming,” Meux said. Trotter knocked over the man whose bathroom he had invaded and ran into the Sturgis residence.
Less than a half hour before the Sheriff’s Department received the 911 call, Trotter had been banging on his mother’s front door a short distance away.
“Momma, help me, help me,” he called out to her, she told investigators, according to Meux’s testimony.
“She said that she couldn’t have him there, couldn’t have him causing a disturbance at her place,” Meux said at the hearing last year.
Earlier in the day, Trotter attended services at the New Life Community Church on nearby Sunset Avenue, the pastor told The Sacramento Bee at the time of the killing.
Trotter’s mother said he “asked her first to call the church or somebody at the church, and then he asked her to let him use her phone or to call his father,” Meux testified.
The mother locked her door and refused to let Trotter inside, Meux said. She did call his father and left a voice message for him, and when she returned to the front door, Trotter was gone, according to the sheriff’s detective’s testimony.