Crime & Courts

Sentencing in Breanna Moore murder case postponed again

With family members from both sides of a domestic murder case watching, the sentencing of 24-year-old Joshua Almeda was postponed for a second time.

Almeda shot and killed his girlfriend, Breanna Moore, in his family's Anchorage Hillside home in 2014. Police found Moore dead on June 26 in Almeda's bedroom. Almeda's mother called 911 around 12:30 a.m. after she awoke to her son's screams. She went to his bedroom in the basement and found Moore with a gunshot wound to the head and a handgun lying nearby.

Almeda's sentencing had been initially set back in July for two days in October, when he pleaded guilty to a single count of second-degree murder. The charge carries a sentencing range of 10 to 99 years. Sentencing set for this week was rescheduled for April.

"It's extremely frustrating for us, but it's also hard on all of Bree's friends and family that want to be involved," said Cindy Moore, Breanna's mother, in an interview Thursday. "They've asked for time off, purchased plane tickets. It makes it hard for everyone."

The attorneys involved in the case traded barbs Tuesday at the Nesbett Courthouse in Anchorage; a victims' rights attorney said the defense was holding proceedings hostage.

Defense attorney Andrew Lambert said he is waiting for Dr. Mark Zelig to finish a comprehensive evaluation of his client.

Zelig has appeared at other criminal trials here. Zelig, a forensic and clinical psychologist, generally testifies about defendants having bipolar illnesses, mental conditions resulting in impaired judgments and other cognitive issues.

"Counsel has been providing Dr. Zelig with a voluminous amount of materials he has requested which included the presentence report. He has conducted the necessary testing but is unable to complete his report in time for sentencing," Lambert wrote in an affidavit in early January.

Superior Court Judge Philip Volland, who is retired but continues to oversee Almeda's case, ordered the report done by Feb. 5.

Lambert said Tuesday that wasn't enough time to provide the court and prosecution with a finalized report. He said he starts defending a murder trial on the Kenai Peninsula that's expected to last a month on the same day.

"I think I'm getting jammed," Lambert said. Over his objections, judge Volland kept the deadline in place.

Butch Moore, Breanna Moore's father, told the court that the family was assured previously the report would be ready before Thanksgiving. More than once, he purchased nonrefundable plane tickets so three family members could attend the hearing.

He asked the judge to order the defense attorney to pay for the cost of the tickets if sentencing is postponed again.

"I just want to be sure we're all going to be here," he said. "It's put emotional stress on our family, and we'd like closure."

Postponement appeared likely to Office of Victims' Rights director Taylor Winston weeks before Tuesday's hearing. She wrote in a court document that there were no surprises in the presentence report, an important document for defendants, the contents of which follow them through incarceration and after release. The defense also was aware of the "psychological components" of that report, she said.

Winston said the family doesn't blame the court -- the blame lies primarily with the defense and "secondarily with a criminal justice system that demonstrates little concern for crime victims."

However, Winston noted that if Almeda's sentencing went forward without his expert witness, the judge's sentence could be put at risk in an appeal.

The conclusion of the murder case may move further into 2016. Assistant District Attorney Paul Miovas said the state has an interest in obtaining Zelig's report on the ordered date. Prosecutors may want to consult their own expert after reading the report, he said.

Butch Moore echoed those statements on Thursday. He said he and Cindy believe the court is taking their concerns into consideration, and they understand a process must be followed. The Moores did not express confidence that the April sentencing date will stick.

"Mr. Lambert has not delivered his report on time in the past," Butch Moore said.

Lambert also noted the Bree Moore Memorial Facebook page in his court document. He characterized the page as an attempt to sway the court. The Moores are asking friends and strangers to weigh in on the sentencing, he said.

Butch Moore said his daughter's sister created the page as a way for people to stay up to date about the court case against Almeda. The page also served as a conduit for getting a law enacted regarding education on dating violence, the father said.

During last year's legislative session, the Moores frequented the Legislature's Anchorage office and pleaded with lawmakers to pass a bill providing education for teachers so they can recognize signs of sexual abuse and teach students about dating violence, among other provisions.

House Bill 44, also known as the Alaska Safe Children's Act, incorporated elements of a program known nationally as Erin's Law with a locally created effort called Bree's Law. It was passed on the final day of a prolonged special session.

Despite the court battle, Breanna Moore's parents thanked their friends, family, the public, the state and the court for their work toward a just resolution of the case.

Jerzy Shedlock

Jerzy Shedlock is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.