A forensic video analyst can testify against the Moorers in the Heather Elvis case, a judge ruled Monday.
Judge Markley Dennis denied a motion to suppress expert testimony in the kidnapping and obstruction of justice charges against Sidney Moorer. Grant Fredericks, a forensic video analyst, will be able to present and explain his report to the jury showing how a truck caught on surveillance video matches a truck belonging to the Moorers.
Dennis approved the defense’s request to include Tammy Moorer into Sidney Moorer’s motion to suppress witness testimony. Greg McCollum, Tammy Moorer’s attorney, wanted her included so any orders made about the trial would include her and not just Sidney Moorer, he said.
The court should find that it is not an accepted scientific principle that no two trucks have the same headline pattern. It’s just not science.
Kirk Truslow, Sidney Moorer’s attorney
Dennis allowed the inclusion because any witness testimony would affect both Moorers, he said.
It’s been more than two years since 20-year-old Elvis disappeared, and residents are still grappling for answers. Supporters still gather regularly for vigils at Peachtree Boat Landing, where Heather Elvis was last seen, and banners offering rewards for information to help find her can still be spotted around town.
Officials involved in the case decline to give details about it, citing a gag order that’s been in place since March 2014 preventing them from talking about specifics.
The prosecution, headed by Nancy Livesay, immediately called Grant Fredericks to the stand. Fredericks, a forensic video analyst, spent about an hour explaining his process of obtaining evidence through reverse video projection in regards to the Moorer’s case.
Reverse projection involves using the same camera, outdoor conditions and suspected objects to gather evidence. In the Moorer’s case, Fredericks compared images from the surveillance video with images he took from his own research, which involved a dozen trucks of different makes and models and the same weather conditions as the night of Dec. 17, 2013.
Fredericks also tested vehicles of similar makes and models to the Moorer’s type of truck for comparison, he said. He examined the way certain parts of the vehicle reflected light and where light sources stemmed from.
His report determined the vehicle in question – a dark, four-door truck with a tool box – is the same vehicle seen in the police video, he said.
"My opinion is the question vehicle is the known vehicle, eliminating all the other class and models," Fredericks said.
Fredericks’ report, which was about 50 pages of narrative and more than 100 image comparisons, was peer-reviewed by another forensic video examiner. George Reis, who’s also a certified examiner, said in a letter to Fredericks that his report was very thorough.
"The report is very thorough and written in a manner that explains our methodology, the foundations for headlight spread pattern comparison as a part of vehicle comparison, and the justification for your conclusion," Reis said in the letter.
Judge Dennis agreed that Fredericks is qualified to testify as a forensic video analyst, though he still questioned whether all of Fredericks’ opinions would be admissible in court.
Today went a long way to making things rights. It’s a step in the right direction.
Terry Elvis, Heather Elvis’ father
That’s when Truslow – Sidney Moorer’s attorney – brought in his own expert witness. Bruce Koenig, former FBI agent and head of the audio visual investigative department, said he could not see how Fredericks’ report could have identified a specific vehicle.
Koenig said the methods and tools used in Fredericks’ report are correct, and from the investigation it would be possible to match the question vehicle with a tested vehicle. However, there is not enough evidence to say the truck in question was the one belonging to the Moorers, Koenig said.
"When you say something is truly unique you have to be able to say that every other vehicle of that type cannot match these other characteristics," he said.
Dennis ruled in favor of the prosecution after an objection from Truslow, who said Fredericks’ notion that every vehicle has unique headlight patterns "isn’t science."
Frederick’s report didn’t just contain science but his experience also, Dennis said, which is enough to render his opinion admissible in court.
"Ultimately it’s up to the jury," Dennis said.
Dates to hear several other pre-trial motions have not been set yet. Those motions include: prohibiting "the introduction of certain evidence," including staged photographs of the Moorers posing with a firearm while on vacation; statements made by Tammy Moorer, in any form, to or about Heather Elvis or the Elvis family; all communication between Sidney and Tammy Moorer; all photographs explicit in nature obtained from the Moorers; and other prejudical and non-probative evidence.
Elvis, 20, was last heard from Dec. 18, 2013, and her car was found abandoned at Peachtree Boat Landing on Dec. 19, 2013. Sidney Moorer, who was previously involved with Elvis, and Tammy Moorer were charged with her murder, but the murder charges and indecent exposure charges for the couple were dropped in March. An obstruction of justice charge for Tammy Moorer also was dropped.
After their arrest in February 2014, the Moorers remained jailed through 2014. Tammy Moorer was released in January 2015 and Sidney Moorer was released in February 2015 after bond was set at $100,000 for each of them by Dennis, according to records.
The Moorers received permission to move to Florida in September after saying they found work in the Sunshine State. Though the couple relocated, they remain under restrictions there, including home detention monitoring, and they must also provide officials with their home and work information and must alert them immediately if anything changes, among other stipulations, court records show.
Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN