A St. Bernard Parish murder case may be the first in which prosecutors are arguing that taunting someone by text message can be enough to erase your presumed right to kill an intruder under Louisiana's "stand your ground" law.
Prosecutors argue Kory Mattox fits the bill for someone who “brings on a difficulty” and therefore can’t claim self-defense for a killing unless he first backed away "in good faith."
Mattox didn't back away when Ricky Moser rolled up to the Violet home of Tammy Martin, Moser's estranged wife, about midnight on Nov. 27, 2014.
Moser had just spent three days checked in at a mental health facility for a breakdown that prosecutors blame on Mattox and threatening, anonymous texts he sent to Moser.
On the last night of his life, Moser drove his black Chevy Camaro to Martin's house. A half-empty bottle of Jagermeister was on the passenger seat as he retrieved a thin, expandable baton that he'd picked up at a bike rally.
Inside the home on South River Park Drive in Violet were Martin’s daughter, Raquel Nicolosi, 21, and Mattox, her 22-year-old boyfriend.
Mattox saw the flash of headlights outside the window and warned Nicolosi, but she opened the door anyway. Moser stood outside, gripping the baton.
“I guess she did not believe me,” Mattox would comment to police.
Nicolosi later said she had passed out and could only remember Moser beating her with an object that opened a gash above her left eye.
Mattox grabbed a Remington 12-gauge shotgun out of the bathroom and blew Moser back outside.
Shot in the chest, Moser lay face down, sneakers pointed toward the crimson splatter that covered the doorway. His face hung over the edge of the concrete walkway, bleeding onto a bed of wood chips in the yard. A black baton lay a few feet away. He died there at age 49.
A man was shot dead in Violet late Wednesday night, according to the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Facts not in dispute
There’s no argument over whether Moser had crossed the threshold of the home; legally, it was enough that he had tried to force his way inside, both sides agree.
Indeed, few of the facts surrounding the killing are in dispute. At issue in the case are competing interpretations of what Louisiana law says about standing your ground, and what the text messages say about Mattox's intent.
He faces a second-degree murder charge that would mean a life sentence without parole if he's convicted.
His lawyers claim they don’t need to show much of anything for Mattox to fall under the protection of the state’s "stand your ground" law, given Moser’s actions that night.
Killing an unlawful intruder is justifiable under Louisiana law, so long as the killer was lawfully inside a dwelling, business or vehicle "when the conflict began."
The law on justifiable homicide says the person must have a reasonable belief that "the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave." But when the intruder is trying to enter "unlawfully and forcibly," Louisiana law presumes the killing was justified.
Attorneys for Mattox say the unseemly text messages from their client — and their possible effect on Moser's mental state — make no legal difference. They argue that Louisiana's law doesn’t require even that Mattox claim he fired in self-defense to be cleared. So long as he was aware Moser was trying to enter the home forcibly and unlawfully, the killing was legal, they say.
“This case as a matter of law is over today,” Dan Robin Jr., one of Mattox's attorneys, told 34th Judicial District Court Judge Jeanne Juneau at a hearing Monday.
Mattox’s defense team had just filed a flurry of motions on the eve of a trial that was slated to begin the following day.
Previous delays have dogged the nearly three-year-old prosecution. Two earlier trial dates were postponed because of a shortage of jurors. Mattox has remained behind bars since his indictment in late 2015, unable to post $500,000 bail.
Mattox was free for nearly a year after the fatal shooting; detectives declined to book him immediately following Moser's death. He has since rejected an offer to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence.
Juneau on Monday granted a defense request to delay the trial again, setting no new date. She has previously denied a motion by Mattox's attorneys to keep a jury from seeing the text-message exchange.
Trouble simmered for years
Those texts and court records point to trouble that had ignited days before the killing and had simmered for years before then, with Moser and Martin doling out punishment to one another over their 11 years together. Seven months before the killing, Martin stabbed Moser with a knife, authorities say.
Moser had recently lost his job with an offshore services company, a sister told authorities after Mattox killed him. Five days before his death, he was driving around the parish, looking for Martin and sending her threatening text messages, she later told police.
He started banging on Martin's front door at 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2014, six days before he was killed. Martin was inside, shouting that she was calling police.
That was only about 15 minutes after Mattox had typed out the first in what would become hundreds of texts in a running dialogue of cursing, name-calling and threats in both directions.
"Hey I saw ur ad on Craigslist u still looking?" it read.
Martin, Mattox and Nicolosi believed that Moser had posted an ad on the popular web site, seeking to meet up with someone for oral sex at an area bar. Mattox seemed eager to draw Moser in and shame him with homophobic barbs.
A minute later, Mattox shot a text to Nicolosi: "Lol, I'm gonna play the (expletive) out of him."
About four hours later, Moser returned to Martin's home. He scaled a fence, grabbed a shovel and trashed the house. The crime was caught on video, and a warrant had been issued for Moser's arrest by the time he arrived at the same house for the final time.
In his texts, Mattox had impersonated a sheriff's deputy, sending Moser a photo of a badge. But he refused to reveal his identity, infuriating Moser, who was living in Slidell at the time.
The exchange straddled Moser's stay at a behavioral health center in Covington. According to his sister, Moser had begun to act and speak erratically. He checked himself into the center a day after the break-in at Martin's house, and checked out again on Nov. 26, less than 24 hours before the fatal altercation.
The texts make clear that Mattox was aware that Moser had gone to the mental health facility. The violent rhetoric and taunting escalated after he got out.
“As soon as they find out who signed u out the nut house they are going to jail ha ha,” says one text from Mattox.
"Not going to stop calling," he added.
Along with the texts, Mattox began to inundate Moser with phone calls and messages, dialing him up to 95 times within a period of hours, prosecutors say.
Then, a few hours before the violence, Mattox did something odd.
Moser was demanding that he reveal his identity.
"Going to hurt you," Moser wrote. "Just tell me your name. Give me your name and (address) I will be there."
That's when Mattox texted back a photo of the front of Martin's house — an invitation of sorts.
“Stupidity is the only word I can think of to describe that,” he told Detective Ryan Melerine in a follow-up interview after the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office had secured the texts through search warrants.
Mattox had first claimed to detectives that Moser was the only one issuing threats before the shooting.
“Why did you text Ricky, ‘If you ever drive down the street I’m going to blast you?’ ” the detective asked.
“I was just trying to scare him; my intentions were to make this man stop,” Mattox replied.
“Why did you text him, ‘If you come over here I have a 12-gauge buckshot for you?’ ”
“It was retarded for me to do that,” Mattox responded.
The night he died, Moser first rode his motorcycle to St. Bernard Parish, but it stalled out on Paris Road in Chalmette before he could get to Martin's house. He returned to the north shore by tow truck and was so angry that the truck's driver, worried, called for backup.
Moser then got in his Camaro and headed back across Lake Pontchartrain. Martin was out at a bar when Moser reached Violet.
The estranged couple had mutual stay-away orders in place, which both had violated in the past. Now authorities had a warrant to arrest Moser for the earlier break-in.
The taunting from Mattox, including numerous homophobic slurs, spurred the entire episode, Assistant District Attorney Michael Morales argued at a March court hearing.
“He messed with Ricky so much that Ricky eventually goes to his ex-wife’s house, commits a burglary and criminal damage and then the next morning … check(s) himself into a mental hospital,” Morales said. “This man drives Ricky Moser to a mental health hospital. That’s what these text messages do.”
Morales insisted that defense attorneys were barking up the wrong legal tree in claiming that the state's "aggressor doctrine" can't be used to prosecute Mattox for the killing. The law bars an aggressor in a dispute from claiming self-defense.
“The killing still has to be necessary,” Morales argued at Monday's hearing. “If they want to beat me at trial, then beat me at trial."
But some lawyers familiar with the state’s “stand your ground” law think the basic facts of the case will make it a tough one for prosecutors to win.
Loyola law school professor Dane Ciolino acknowledged that “there’s not a whole lot of law in this area,” but he argued that for someone to be deemed an aggressor, they generally must present an “imminent and present threat of physical violence.”
“Generally you’re talking about physical aggression when you’re talking about being an aggressor,” he said. “It doesn’t fit if we’re just talking about offensive language, intimidating language.”
Ciolino is handling the appeal in a different case testing the aggressor doctrine: that of Ronald Gasser, who was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of former NFL player Joe McKnight in Jefferson Parish.
Even if prosecutors succeed in painting Mattox as the aggressor — a claim his attorneys reject — they still need to show he wasn’t justified in firing on Moser to protect Nicolosi from further attack.
Louisiana law allows someone to kill in defense of another “when it is reasonably apparent that the person attacked could have justifiably used such means himself, and when it is reasonably believed that such intervention is necessary to protect the other person.”
A perplexing decision?
Roger Jordan, a former prosecutor who now practices criminal defense, said he was perplexed by the decision to charge Mattox.
“It’s justifiable homicide committed by a person lawfully inside a dwelling,” Jordan said. “You don’t even have to believe that person who enters your residence was going to harm you.”
Jordan said Moser’s actions took it to “a whole other level” of aggression when he showed up at the house.
“This guy is an intruder who has a history against that residence,” Jordan said. “I don’t see how the state gets around the presumption.”
Meantime, St. Bernard District Attorney Perry Nicosia’s office has charged Martin with inciting a felony, claiming she had urged a threat campaign to keep Moser at bay.
A man has been arrested by St. Bernard Parish Deputies after he allegedly fired two shots at his girlfriend, missing both times.
They filed the same charge against Nicolosi, Mattox's girlfriend, and added a perjury charge. Prosecutors claim Nicolosi lied to a grand jury about her role.
Nicolosi had texted Mattox, saying her mother had suggested scaring Moser but that she didn't know how to respond.
“What’s his number?” Mattox replied, seemingly up for the task.
Mattox’s attorneys have argued that Morales, the prosecutor, misled the grand jury that indicted their client by failing to read it the appropriate law.
Juneau granted a motion to unseal that portion of the grand jury transcripts, but prosecutors are asking an appeals court to review her decision.
In another motion, Mattox’s attorneys are seeking medical records from Moser's hospital stay. Juneau agreed to order those records produced for her to review. Morales acknowledged he hadn't seen them.
Mattox, now 25, sat at the defense table Monday, wearing shackles and gray-and-black jail scrubs. A bailiff allowed his mother to sit beside him and discuss the case.
He asked to speak with a news reporter, but his lawyers said no.