Crime & Courts

Federal judge issues rare order for new trial in Anchorage murder conviction

A 37-year-old Anchorage man convicted on federal homicide charges this year will undergo a new trial after a judge ruled that evidence presented against him actually pointed toward his innocence.

It’s rare that a motion for a new trial is granted, U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess wrote in an order Friday vacating Matthew Moi’s homicide convictions.

The judge’s order accused investigators of failing to fully examine evidence that came late in the case indicating someone else may have fatally shot 23-year-old Navarro Andrews in 2019.

“Granting a new trial is an extraordinary measure that the Court does not take lightly,” Burgess wrote, calling this “an exceptional case where the evidence presented at trial preponderates so heavily against guilt on the homicide counts that a serious miscarriage of justice may have occurred.”

Moi was one of six men arrested in 2019 as part of a drug-dealing ring that imported heroin and methamphetamine from the Lower 48.

He was the only defendant charged in connection with killing Andrews. The other men involved in the case have since entered guilty pleas to varying charges related to drug trafficking.

After a three-week trial, Moi was convicted in May on charges of murder in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise, using a firearm to commit murder in a drug trafficking crime, drug conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. The jurors spent only five hours deliberating, Burgess wrote.

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Assistant federal public defender Ben Muse filed a motion for a new trial on the homicide charges in the months after the jury’s verdict.

Jordan Shanholtzer was in charge of the drug trafficking enterprise at the center of the case from 2017 until 2019 and generally shipped drugs to Alaska in the mail, according to the indictment.

Shanholtzer obtained some of the drugs from a Mexican cartel, according to a motion filed by federal public defenders. He moved from Anchorage to Arizona and then Florida and had temporarily placed Moi in charge of the enterprise, the indictment said.

Moi was close friends with Andrews, according to testimony from the trial.

A package of heroin was sent to Andrews’ home in April 2019, but when Moi went to pick up the package it was not in the mailbox, according to a factual summary of the case included in the judge’s order. Moi initially thought the package had mistakenly been placed in the wrong mailbox, but after several days of searching he believed it had been stolen, according to the order.

Andrews was shot to death on April 8, 2019.

Moi left Alaska a week later and was arrested in Los Angeles in October of that year, the order said.

Evidence presented at trial does not show that Moi killed Andrews, Burgess wrote.

Prosecutors focused their case on testimony from Shanholtzer and Wasilla resident Kyle Dwiggins, who claimed Moi had confessed to them. Their testimony lacked credibility because both men had significant motive and self-interest to lie, Burgess wrote, saying there was “ample evidence suggesting that both men had prior knowledge of or bore some responsibility for the plan that led to Andrews’s murder.”

Investigators recovered evidence from the scene, but some significant items were not tested by the crime lab, according to Burgess. Forensic evidence from the crime scene and an eyewitness description of the shooter do not implicate Moi, he wrote.

Investigators found out late in their investigation that Ebon “Guzzo” Moore may have been involved in the murder, Burgess wrote, and they took “only minimal steps” to investigate his role after. Neither Dwiggins or Moore have been charged in the case, but Burgess described them as “known co-conspirators” of the drug enterprise.

Federal prosecutors had opposed the motion for a new trial. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska said in a statement that the agency is now “reviewing the judge’s order regarding the Moi case and will determine our next steps.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said prosecutors would not be available for questions and the statement was the only information they would be providing at this time.

When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, public defender Muse declined to comment on the case.

A date has not yet been scheduled for a new trial and Moi is not charged in state court for Andrews’ death.

Moi remains in custody on his other convictions. He was housed this week at Cook Inlet Pretrial Facility.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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