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Judge: Evidence identifying alleged murder victim to be allowed in trial

An Albemarle County judge will allow the prosecution to present crucial dental evidence used to identify the remains of a Fluvanna man who was allegedly murdered in 2004.

Kevin Michael Moore, 37, along with his father, Richard Glen Spradlin, 58, were charged in 2018 with the death of Jesse Hicks, who was reported missing in 2004. Hicks was a self-employed truck driver and father of two.

Moore and Spradlin, both from Albemarle County, are each charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and using a firearm in commission of a felony. Few details have been revealed in the case or surrounding the nature of Hicks’ disappearance.

According to authorities, Hicks left his Fluvanna County home Sept. 1, 2004, and never returned. His truck was found four days later in Nelson County. But it was 10 years before a body believed to be his was found in May 2014 in Keene, in southern Albemarle County.

By the time a body believed to be Hicks’ was found it was “skeletonized,” making it difficult for authorities to identify him. Some time after examination and identification, the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office released the remains to Hicks’ family, who cremated them.

As part of the identification process Hicks’ dental records were consulted in 2014, and this year resulted in a delay to Moore’s trial after his attorney, Blair Howard filed a motion to exclude the evidence.

In a motion to exclude evidence, Howard argued that the dental records used to determine Hicks’ identity are not adequate. Specifically, Howard argued that the commonwealth has not provided a report from an expert that the dental records belong to Hicks.

Though records were obtained from Hicks’ dental office, the office is no longer in possession of the records and the records being cited by the commonwealth were obtained by Hicks’ wife and handed over to the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s office in 2014.

Additionally, Howard claimed the X-rays have not been appropriately identified by anyone who worked at the dental office where Hicks was seen.

“In fact, only two of the four X-rays have any identifying marks, and in those two, the name ‘Jesse’ is not spelled like the Jesse Hicks identified in the autopsy report,” Howard wrote in the motion to exclude. “The name is misspelled twice, on one it is spelled ‘Jessi’ and on the other, it is spelled ‘Jessie.’”

Following months of delays and a motion hearing on Aug. 31, Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl V. Higgins denied the defense’s motion in a Sept. 21 order, citing testimony from former employees of the dental practice and Hicks’ wife, Nancy.

According to Higgins’ order, the evidence in the case shows that Hicks was a patient of Dr. Jose Mera from 1991 to 2004 and that the dentist personally remembered him. Mera additionally testified, per the order, that all the dental X-rays in the commonwealth’s possession are of the same person “because the patterns of the fillings and crowns and root canals were the same in all the attached X-rays.”

“The evidence persuades the court that [Hicks’] dental X-rays were placed in file at Dr. Mera’s dental office with [Hicks’] name on it,” Higgins wrote.

Mera also positively identified his own handwriting on a set of X-rays labeled “Jessi Hicks,” per Higgins’ order, and said that every hired dental assistant was trained and certified to take X-rays.

“While the name and qualifications of the dental hygienist or technician were not known at the time of the hearing, Dr. Mera’s testimony was that he was 100% confident that the person who took the X-ray in the file titled as ‘Jessie Hicks’ was certified to do so,” Higgins wrote. “Dr. Mera was unwavering in this testimony.”

This testimony paired with testimony from a former employee of the practice who said she remembered giving Nancy Hicks the X-rays was sufficient and proper to show that it is Hicks involved in the case, Higgins wrote.

“What weight is to be given to these X-rays and whether the evidence is sufficient to identify the remains as Jesse Hicks beyond a reasonable doubt is a factual matter to be left to the providence of the jury,” Higgins wrote.

Moore is set for a term date on the Dec. 6 docket call and Spradlin is set for a term date on the Oct. 4 docket call. It is anticipated that both men will receive new trial dates soon after. Moore remains in custody at Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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