Melissa Moran and her dog both were found dead on the couple's back porch in March 2014.
PANAMA CITY — Maintaining his innocence in a letter eulogizing his wife, Philip Jude Moran wept in court before being sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for her murder.
Moran, 52, appeared in court to be sentenced in the case. He has been in custody since March 2014 when authorities arrived at he and Melissa Moran's Southport home to find his 50-year-old wife dead from a gunshot wound to her head, on the back porch alongside the family’s slain dog. After a jury found Moran guilty in March of second-degree murder with a firearm, Circuit Judge Brantley Clark Jr. sentenced him Tuesday to life in prison.
In a letter to the court, Moran maintained his innocence in the case and did not issue an apology to the members of Melissa’s family who filled the pews of the courtroom. Moran began speaking about how the couple met in Panama City Beach in 1992 and moved in together after only about two weeks. At one point, he started sobbing as he discussed how they worked and traveled together in the years that followed, and his attorney, Lisa Anderson, took over reading his statement.
“We were blessed with plenty, we were blessed with each other and we wanted for nothing,” Anderson read. “Others were merely a distraction from the completeness we found in each other.”
Moran went on to describe his wife’s compassionate nature toward animals, saying they shared their home with stray dogs, cats and orphaned raccoons.
“I loved my wife dearly, and I miss her presence each day,” he said in the statement. “I maintain my innocence in her death.”
Melissa Moran’s family declined to comment after hearing the sentence. However, prosecutor Bob Sombathy relayed the message that they sought life in prison for the killing.
Sombathy’s theory in the case was that Philip Moran was frustrated with his wife’s pill use despite himself also abusing the medication. Sombathy then walked through the order of events that transpired after Melissa Moran was sitting in bed March 2014 when her husband leveled a hunting rifle at her temple and pulled the trigger.
A trail of blood through the house to the back porch led to where authorities would later find Melissa's body alongside that of her favorite stray dog, which had been stabbed 17 times. Sombathy showed jurors different evidence that indicated Philip Moran tried to cover up the crime, including bloody rags, blood-stained shoes in the trash and blood in the shower — all containing DNA belonging to his wife. At some point in the effort, though, Moran started to panic and began establishing an insanity defense, Sombathy said.
Anderson had attempted a two-pronged defense at trial. She argued on one level that authorities got the wrong guy, and that Moran was insane at the time somebody else killed his wife. Anderson referred to a video taken of Moran — snarling and cursing the CIA for killing his wife — at the time of his arrest and the accounts that law enforcement thought Moran’s behavior was odd but could not place it among their experience with drug users.
After his arrest, Moran was seen 178 times by four mental health professionals at the jail. He repeatedly smeared feces on himself and his cell, and officials told jurors he even once ate feces. Moran went on to spend a month in a mental health facility to be evaluated for competency by a different pool of mental health professionals.
However, not one diagnosed him with a psychotic mental illness or prescribed him anti-psychotic medication. Only the defense’s psychologist found that Moran suffered from “bipolar disorder mania with psychotic features.”
Despite being the only person inside the home at the time and admitting to the killing on several occasions, Moran maintained his innocence Tuesday and wanted his pre-sentence investigation to reflect that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder by the defense’s psychologist. His attorney said they will be appealing the verdict and sentence.