The Thomson teen who was 15 years old when he stabbed and killed a man in 2015 has been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
It took a McDuffie County Superior Court jury 90 minutes to find Travtavious Quimaine Moss, now 18, guilty of voluntary manslaughter for the April 22, 2015, stabbing death of Laterrence Burley, then 22, of Warrenton.
Superior Court Judge Harold Hinesley sentenced Moss to 20 years in prison for Burley’s death and to five years on probation to run consecutively to the previous sentence for possessing a knife during the commission of a felony.
Moss was tried March 12-14 as an adult for both felony and malice murder. He was also charged with aggravated assault and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime. The jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter, which is a lesser-included charge of felony murder.
Moss and Burley were involved in a fight at 208 Watson Street in Thomson around 9:30 p.m. that resulted in Burley being stabbed in the back and drowning in his own blood because the knife punctured his right lung. Burley died during EMS transport to Doctors Hospital in Augusta and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
During the jury selection, known as voir dire, prospective jurors expressed that Moss’ age when he committed the crime would be problematic for them to try the case. Hinesley dismissed seven of the 40 prospective jurors for a variety of causes. Following the selection of 12 jurors, those not selected were returned to the jury pool to be possibly selected to try another case that would be held as soon as the Moss trial ended.
Throughout the trial, Moss’ attorney Lucy Bell said the case was about self-defense in the midst of a large family brawl in the parking lot of the Watson Street Apartments. The prosecutor, Kevin Majeska, said the case was about the value of human life.
“The defendant stabbed Laterrence Burley in the back and killed him,” said Majeska. He said Burley, known as “Meko,” was unarmed when he was stabbed and that the evidence to be presented would show the value of human life and that human life cannot be taken without reason.
Both Majeska and Bell highlighted the familial relationship between the defendant and the deceased, and both said on that fatal night, tempers between many family members erupted.
According to Majeska, Moss became enraged during the argument when Burley shoved his sister after she supposedly struck Burley. Both attorneys said a chain of events occurred during the fight that resulted in the stabbing.
Majeska said Moss threw the first punch and threatened Burley. He said Moss went to his mother’s white SUV that was parked 18 feet away, grabbed a knife that his mother had inside and walked back to where Burley stood.
The assistant district attorney said Burley, who was unarmed, turned away and Moss plunged the knife four inches into his back. When Burley crumbled to the ground, Moss spit on him and kicked him in the head. “Laterrence Burley eventually dies. He drowned in his own blood,” Majeska said, adding that he would have been aware of what was happening.
The district attorney requested the jury to listen to the evidence and find Moss guilty as charged.
Bell noted that Moss played as a running back for the Thomson Bulldogs and was known as Tay-Man. She also said many family members were present at the Watson Street apartment April 22 and were enjoying themselves in the parking lot.
Bell said the large family fight started after Burley confronted a sibling about having a relationship with Moss since they are related.
She said Burley was the aggressor.
“Tay-Man defended himself. At some point, Tay-Man retrieved the knife from his mother’s SUV. Sadly Laterrence Burley fell to the ground.” She told the jury that Moss did not leave the scene. He went and sat inside the SUV and waited on the police to arrive. “This is an unusual case,” she said.
Bell said there is a lack of evidence against Moss and requested that the jury find Moss, now 18, not guilty.
Thomson Police Sgt. Chris Mullis was the first witness to take the stand. His testimony was about protocol and procedure. He testified that he when he arrived at the Watson Street Apartments at 9:45 p.m., April 22, 2015, he saw a black man laying facedown on the pavement in the center of the apartment parking lot. He said it was obvious that there was a puncture wound in the middle of the man’s back. “It looked like a stab wound,” he said. “It appeared to be in the lung because the blood was bubbling.”
Both attorneys questioned him about collecting the knife and the process before the case was turned over to a GBI Crime Scene Investigator and Moss’ arrest.
Gary Palmer, a paramedic with McDuffie Fire and EMS, provided expert testimony in treating Burley at the scene. He testified that Burley was conscience when he arrived.
“The patient kept saying over and over I’m going to die.” He described Burley as “a load and go patient” and testified that his heart rate was steadily declining which signaled the beginning of the end.
During testimony, Burley’s sister, Sherkeydra Burley, and brother, Rodraekous Booker, told the court about the chain of events and the arguments that led up to the stabbing. They said following the argument, Burley walked away and Moss struck him with something he retrieved from his mother’s SUV. They said Burley fell to the ground, wounded, and they saw Tay-Man kick Meko and spit on him. Other siblings also testified that they saw Burley and Moss fighting, but they did not see the stabbing but did see their brother on the ground.
Tiffany Moss Hill, the defendant’s mother, countered their testimony. She said Burley threw the first punch and struck her daughter in the face. Everyone was fighting, she said. “It was a big brawl.” She testified that Burley also hit her in the chest. “I immediately threw up,” she said. “My son helped me into my jeep.”
Hill said as Moss and Burley fought, she was positive that Moss picked up the knife from her vehicle. She said he would have known it was there because she had used it earlier that day to put a tag on her jeep.
“My son stabbed Meko,” she said as she testified to the direction of punches the men threw at one another. “I saw Meko fall to the ground. My son said ‘Mother, I’m sorry. I just messed up my life.” She said following the stabbing, she told her son to get into the SUV.
Attorney Bell reminded the court that Tay-Man did not leave the scene but remained inside the vehicle until law enforcement arrived. She told the court that Tay-Man had a right to defend himself.
Moss’s aunt, Jalexicia Lazenby, now 18, told the court that she put the knife back in the truck after the stabbing and sat in the vehicle with her nephew.
Both the defense and prosecution told the jury about inconsistent statements witnesses made to law enforcement after the stabbing and the statements made during the trial. During Bell’s examination of GBI agents Wendell Goodman and Michael Petry, she made a point of exemplifying the time the agents conducted interviews on children who were 14, 15 and 16 years old at the time. The agents said they conducted the interviews from 2:40 a.m. to 3:45 a.m. April 23, 2015, and Bell said the children might not have remembered what they said then.
“This is a complete and utter tragedy that this happened. It is a tragedy for the 22-year-old boy who lost his life. It is a tragedy for the family. It is tragedy for a 15-year-old boy at the time who has had his life altered,” she said.
Majeska told the court that he was an advocate of self- defense. “But it is not an unfettered right to kill someone when upset.” He said Meko was stabbed out of revenge when in fact he was attempting to keep peace and order.
Before sentencing, Moss’ stepfather, mother and grandmother asked the court for leniency for Travtavious Moss. They expressed sorrow that Burley died from Moss’ action but hoped that Moss would not have to spend his entire life in prison for something he did at 15.
“I want him to have the opportunity to get out, have kids, experience life instead of behind bars,” his mother, Tiffany Hill said.
Hinesley called the case tragic but also avoidable.
“The concern I have is that based on the evidence I heard, he got into the car after the fact when he should have gotten into the car when he got the knife. That was the time for him to realize that the fight should have been over,” the judge said.
Hinesley said although he recognized that Moss was 15 when he stabbed Burley, his action was heinous.
“The law allows you to be treated as an adult because you certainly committed the most heinous adult act by taking someone else’s life,” he said.
Story Courtesy of The McDuffie Progress