Court rules against ex-prison workers in murder plot

Case stemmed from investigation into Ku Klux Klan in North Florida

David Moran and Charles Newcomb
David Moran and Charles Newcomb

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a case that stemmed from an investigation into the Ku Klux Klan in North Florida, an appeals court Monday rejected arguments by two former state prison employees who were convicted of conspiring to try to kill an ex-inmate.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal turned down appeals by David Elliott Moran and Charles T. Newcomb.

The two men were convicted of conspiracy for plotting to kill a former inmate because he had bitten a correctional officer, Thomas Driver, while in prison.

Moran, Newcomb and Driver were accused of approaching an FBI confidential informant at a December 2014 Ku Klux Klan gathering and asking him to help in murdering the former inmate, who lived in the Palatka area. That led to recordings of the men discussing the plot, which at one point involved a plan to inject the former inmate with insulin to try to kill him, according to Monday's rulings.

The FBI ultimately took a photo that made it appear the former inmate had been shot, with the confidential informant then showing the photo to Moran, Newcomb and Driver.

The recordings led to the arrests of the men, with Moran and Newcomb getting convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and Driver entering a plea, Monday's rulings said.

In the appeals, Moran and Newcomb argued, in part, that they should have been acquitted because of a lack of evidence of a conspiracy. But the appeals court issued similar rulings rejecting the arguments.

"Moran knew the essential objectives of the conspiracy to kill Driver's attacker and fully intended to participate in the murder," said one of the opinions, written by appeals-court Judge Lori Rowe and joined by judges Clay Roberts and Susan Kelsey. "Moran approached the CI (confidential informant) to obtain his help to kill the attacker. Besides asking the CI to put the man ‘six feet under,' Moran spoke with Newcomb several times about the plot to kill the man. Moran made plans to confront the man at his home in Palatka. He talked with Newcomb about using insulin to kill the attacker and suggested chopping up the man's body before disposing of it."

The rulings did not detail the three men's work records, but a Division of Administrative Hearings ruling last year about Moran's retirement benefits said he had been a sergeant at the Florida Department of Corrections Reception and Medical Center at Lake Butler. It said Driver had been a guard at the facility and said Newcomb was a former Department of Corrections employee. It said the intended victim was black.