Jonathan Jones

Sometimes, he would ride together on the train with 25-year-old Christoper Rhodes, also from Philadelphia, to the Paoli train station, where they would pick up a shuttle to take them to work.

Then in December of last year, both men were placed in handcuffs by East Whiteland Police and accused of robbing the Circle K gas station at 201 Morehall Road in the early morning hours of Nov. 4 of last year. A store employee and an eyewitness identified them as the perpetrators.

Throughout the trial in front of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Gavin, both men, neither of whom have criminal records, adamantly denied their involvement in the crime.

After three hours of deliberation, a Chester County jury found both men not guilty on all charges of armed robbery, simple assault and theft.

After the verdict was read, Moore broke down in tears, as did numerous family members who sat through the two-day trial. Outside the courtroom, they embraced and thanked God.

Although he had been in prison for more than two months, Moore, who has a wife and three children, said he held no ill will toward the prosecutors nor those who identified him as the man who committed the robbery.

“I never thought something like this could happen. I am a fair person who tries to get along with everybody,” Moore said. “I’ve never been locked up in my life and I didn’t have any faith in the justice system. I do now. But I don’t have anything bad to say about the prosecutor. The jury listened to the evidence and realized this was a case of mistaken identity. But I do know that if the detective had done his job, it would never have gotten to this.”

Both men, who were fired after the charges were filed, will now have to find a job. Neither indicated they intend to return to the Homewood Suites.

In closing remarks, Christian J. Hoey, defense attorney for Rhodes, stressed that for jurors to convict the men, they had to believe both men, without wearing masks, came out from Philadelphia on their day off, passing 70 to 100 convenient stores, in order to rob a gas station next to where they worked.

The jury would also have to believe, Hoey contended, the two men then turned up for work the next morning and decided to go into the gas station they had allegedly robbed the night before in order to buy cigarettes.

Hoey then chastised the police for not investigating other possible leads, including a former employee who quit within 48 hours of the robbery that had also been listed as a possible suspect after store managers reported her to the police.

“Don’t you think you would investigate that before these guys are sitting here in handcuffs?” Hoey said. “These guys are charged with armed robbery and we’re (the defense) doing the investigation.”

Hoey argued that both witnesses, who had identified Rhodes and Moore as the suspects, had “molded” their stories to fit the investigation.

Afterward, Anthony D. Jackson, defense attorney for Moore, discussed with both defendants the possibility of pursuing further legal action as result of the acquittal.

In closing, Jackson also took issue with the failure to investigate other potential suspects from the Desmond Hotel who knew the employee that was reported to police.

“He says, ‘Well, I know it’s two black guys,’ and then comes out of the Homesuites and says, ‘I got two black guys,'” said Jackson, referring to the investigation by East Whiteland Police Officer Daniel Wilson. “Why? Why do these guys become suspects? That’s not even in the picture.”

Afterward, Jackson reiterated his belief that the two men were only considered suspects because they were black.

“The defendants were completely innocent and the charges were absurd,” Jackson said. “The only reason they became suspects is because they were black. No one expected that these two men who worked at the Homewood Suites every day could do something like this.”

Assistant District Attorney Charles Gaza contended that both witnesses who had identified Moore and Rhodes were clearly credible. He said both witnesses saw the suspects under bright light and for a long period of time.

Gaza said the defense’s effort to pick apart their testimony with what he saw as “repetitive questions” was an attempt to bury their testimony.

He also took issue with a contention by Rhodes that he could not close his jacket as the store employee had alleged to police. While he conceded that the zipper was broken, Gaza then buttoned up the coat and held it in front of the jurors.

“I guess (Rhodes) was wrong,” Gaza said.

At part of the trial, Hoey and Jackson called on the hotel manager of Homewood Suites, who described both men as excellent employees who have held multiple responsibilities including handling valuables.

In addition, neighbors and family members testified on behalf of Moore and Rhodes, who they described as honest and trustworthy.