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Buried bones and unpaid debts: Long-delayed Albemarle County murder trial begins

Nearly 20 years after 47-year-old Fluvanna County man Jesse Hicks went missing and nearly 10 years after a partial skeleton was found, the trial of the man accused of killing the self-employed trucker is now underway.

Arguments and evidence in the murder trial of 39-year-old Kevin Moore of Albemarle County began Thursday with testimony from the dead man’s widow, sister and the former University of Virginia student who found the bones.

Witness John Hensley told the Albemarle County Circuit Court that he grew up in southern Albemarle, graduated from Monticello High School and had just finished his first year at UVa when he decided to go turkey hunting on May 7, 2014. He said he went to the Scottsville-area hunting club where his grandfather had long taken him, but he was alone that day and following a deer trail along the Hardware River when he spotted an unusual sight.

“I thought initially it was a very strange, shiny rock,” Hensley said.

He said it was about halfway up a bluff above him and perhaps 20 yards away. But as he moved closer, he said there was a painful realization.

“It was the top of a human skull sticking out from some debris, some brush,” he said.

His discovery launched a recovery operation the following day, according to another witness, Sara Sochor, an investigator assisting the Virginia medical examiner’s office. Sochor said the site was too steep to approach without assistance.

“We rappelled down with ropes,” said Sochor. “It was not an easy scene to navigate.”

In addition to the skull, investigators found some ribs, vertebrae, a pelvis and other extremities. But it was far, she said, from a full skeleton.

Sochor said her team also unearthed an array of personal belongings including a couple of keys, a Progressive insurance card, a pair of pocketknives, some mostly degraded Levi’s jeans and a leather belt with a distinctive metal adornment in the form of a dog.

“That’s it,” said Hicks’ widow, Nancy, after a prosecutor cut open an evidence box and showed her the weather-damaged belt.

In his opening argument, the prosecutor, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Farley, said the hunt club belonged to Moore’s family and suggested that the jury would eventually hear a set of tape recordings made by an informant. Farley said the informant befriended Moore and offered to fund a bogus murder-for-hire deal to provoke admissions. He said the informant asked Moore if he’d ever done something like this.

“His answer was yes,” said Farley.

Farley said that Moore then proceeded to divulge details about his prior killing: the method of death, burying the body at the hunt club and the location of the victim’s discarded pickup truck.

“But he was intentionally coy,” said Farley. “As he gave details and gave information, the one bit he left out was the name of the person he killed.”

Farley said that among the bombshells the court would soon hear is that one motive for the killing was Moore’s desire to impress his formerly estranged father, Richard Glenn Spradlin, a member of the family that owned the Woodridge Market on Rolling Road between Scottsville and Charlottesville.

“He wanted to be a Spradlin,” said Farley. “Once he killed this person, he felt like he gained respect.”

Nancy Hicks testified that on the day he disappeared, Sept. 1, 2004, her husband had a planned meeting to collect a debt owed to him by her cousin, Spradlin, who went by his middle name, Glenn. She said the amount borrowed from her husband was $35,000, but it had ballooned to $70,000 due to the passage of time.

“They were supposed to meet that day, and Glenn was supposed to have his money,” she said.

Along with his son, Spradlin was initially charged in 2018 with murder, murder conspiracy and a firearms charge in this case. The trials were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and by a defense motion on the eve of one planned trial in 2022. Spradlin’s trial was to be held after his son’s, but after a short bout with cancer, he died last year at the age of 60. The prosecutor revealed that the informant has also died.

Defense lawyer Blair Howard blasted the case against his client.

“There’s no gun, there’s no fingerprints, there’s no DNA,” said Howard.

Howard noted that investigators obtained no evidence of a gunshot either among the bones or on the land around them.

“There is no explanation for why this person died and certainly no evidence that it was homicide or a violent act,” said Howard.

The attorney said the victim’s pickup truck similarly contained no physical evidence that linked to Moore.

“There is no evidence but circumstantial evidence,” said Howard. “They don’t have anything.”

Looking little like his bearded and long-haired early intake photo at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he currently resides, Moore appeared in court clean-shaven with a high-and-tight haircut.

A group of six of his relatives watched the proceedings while eight members of the victim’s family gathered across the aisle. The trial is expected to last through the end of next week.


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