Reprinted from Athens News Courier
Reporter Jean Cole
Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2015 2:00 am
Athens, Ala. – When Joel Moyers pulled the trigger on his semiautomatic SKS rifle and killed Brandon Hydrick in the early morning hours of Sept. 29, 2012, it was not the first time he had exhibited irrational behavior.
After Moyers was first charged with murder in 2012, neighbors who lived near Moyers on Fennell Road, testified during a bond hearing that he had also confronted them in the weeks before Hydrick’s murder.
Moyers was convicted of capital murder Friday in the death of Hydrick and he was immediately sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
In the hours leading up to the shooting, Brandon and his brother Ryan had attended a get-together with friends near Moyer’s home at the intersection of Fennell Lane and Fennell Road on property owned by the family of Brandon’s girlfriend.
The brothers were driving around about 3 a.m. and had stopped to relieve themselves when Moyers saw them, grabbed his gun and went to investigate. When the brothers returned to the intersection about 10 minutes later, Moyers was waiting in his truck with headlights on and rifle in hand. Moyers ordered Ryan to stop but Ryan, seeing the rifle, sped away. Moyers fired a bullet into the tailgate and it killed Brandon, who was in the passenger seat.
When jurors first entered the jury room Wednesday afternoon after three days of testimony, they had 135 pieces of evidence to review, including videotapes of investigators interviewing Moyers and the victim’s brother, Ryan, who was driving the truck that night. What jurors did not know is that Moyers had a history of bullying, according to neighbors.
When Moyers’ charge was upgraded from murder to capital murder, his bail was revoked and he was returned to jail, as is customary. In February 2013, a hearing was held to determine whether a judge should set bail for Moyers. It was at that hearing neighbors Luke Williams and Jeffery Horton testified that Moyers was known on their road as someone to avoid. Both men said that on separate occasions Moyers had cast a large, blinding spotlight at them as they turned onto Fennell Road.
According to published reports, Williams said he had asked Moyers, who had a rifle by his leg, why he shined the light at him in such a manner and Moyers “made something up like he was shooting birds or raccoons.”
Horton said Moyers began cursing and ranting when he questioned his actions, telling Horton he was playing his music too loud. Horton said he told Moyers he turned down his music whenever he turned onto the road.
T.D. Murray had a similar story about how he saw Moyers approach a hunter midday with a gun and yell at him about trespassing. His family owns property and a country home where the Hydrick brothers, Murray’s daughter Bronwen, and two other friends had been visiting the night before Brandon’s murder.
Jurors were not privy to what some neighbors knew of Moyers. Murray and other neighbors were prepared to testify this week if Moyers took the witness stand, but Moyers did not. Prosecutors could not call the neighbors as witnesses except to rebut testimony by Moyers. Under state law, prosecutors were barred from raising the defendant’s “prior bad acts” as evidence that Moyers acted badly the morning of the shooting.
In the coming week or so, Moyers will likely be transferred from the Limestone County Jail to state prison to serve out his sentence.
The county jail will ask the Alabama Department of Corrections to expedite his transfer due to his medical needs, an official said. As soon as a bed is available, he will be transferred.
Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones said Moyers will likely end up at Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Center in Hamilton, though he said of Moyers, “he is not as sick as he appears.”
During his trial at the Limestone Judicial Center in Athens, Moyers sat in a wheelchair and wore an oxygen mask most of the time. He was able to stand up to enter and exit the jail van each day but he stayed in the chair otherwise.
Although witnesses testified they had seen Moyers push mowing his lawn prior to the murder, his time in jail, as well as a possible suicide attempt that occurred after he was first indicted for capital murder, have likely caused his health to deteriorate, Jones said.
On Saturday, Brandon would have turned 29.
“I put balloons out for him,” said his mother, Donna.
For three years the family has been battling Moyers, waiting for the murder case to come to trial. Now, they can settle back into their daily lives and try to move on. For Donna, the past three years have been a charade.
“Every day I wake up and put on my pretend suit,” she said. “I pretend I’m alright.”
She and her husband Phil, their son Ryan and daughter Jessica have been through shock, grief, rage and back again. They know they will never again hear Brandon’s voice. They will never see the sparkle in his blue eyes. They will never feel his arms around them. All they can do is remember.
When Moyers was sentenced to capital murder Friday, they wept with relief.
Ryan, who had to helplessly watch his brother die then try to beg an address from the man who murdered him, said he was sorry for the jury.
“I’m grateful to them, but I am sorry they had to go through it,” Ryan said. “I’m sorry they had to see all of it and be dragged into it.”
Phil, their father, who often dropped his head in tears during the trial, misses his first boy. During a break in the trial, he spoke of Brandon’s work ethic at Halo Monitoring in Huntsville, his gregarious personality and how everyone wanted him as an employee.
The verdict will not reconcile the loss of Brandon but it has eased the family’s turmoil.