A Guatemalan migrant has been sentenced to life in prison for the throat-slashing murder and robbery of a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate and artist in a killing the judge condemned for its horrific brutality.
“Horrific case,” Tomko wrote in sentencing documents as his reason for his significant upward departure from discretionary state sentencing guidelines, which for Obando called for a punishment of between 26 years and two months at the low end and 43 years and seven months at the high end.
“Victim was singled out for his sexuality and vulnerability,” the judge said. “[The] victim was dumped off roadway in a different county. No acceptance of responsibility on the part of the defendant.”
Obando was one of three men charged in the crime and the principal defendant who, according to evidence, slashed the throat of Moore, 36, whom they picked up at a convenience store at state Route 35 and Interstate 95 on the pretext of giving him a ride to Richmond.
But instead, the defendants took him to a house where Obando was staying in the 5400 block of Hair Road. He was robbed of his MacBook computer and iPhone and punched and kicked before Obando slashed his throat with a knife on Jan. 11, 2018.
“His spinal cord was severed,” said Prince George Commonwealth’s Attorney Susan Fierro, who prosecuted the case.
Moore, who at the time lived in Franklin, was hitchhiking to Richmond. A graduate of VCU, he had been a graduate student of Mary Washington University and was a prolific artist who had several exhibits in Richmond, Portsmouth and Fredericksburg.
Obando is a Guatemalan citizen who authorities said was residing illegally in the U.S. and living in Prince George at the time of the killing.
After Moore was killed, the defendants wrapped his body in plastic bags and drove it to a location on Jerusalem Plank Road in Sussex, where they dumped the remains in a watery ditch. A hunter discovered the body the next day.
The two co-defendants — Christopher Jared Crowder, then 18, of Dinwiddie, and Jacob Matthew Wadsworth, then 17, of Stoney Creek — pleaded guilty in 2019 to their roles in the robbery and killing. They testified against Obando at his August trial as a condition of their plea agreements. A jury found Obando guilty on all counts.
According to evidence, Moore had been hitchhiking to Richmond, and a friend had given him a ride to the convenience store off I-95 but dropped him there because he couldn’t take him any farther. That’s when the defendants encountered Moore, who witnesses said was heavily intoxicated and disturbing other patrons at the store.
Moore bought two cases of beer and some cigarettes, and was overheard to say he was going to fill the defendants’ car with gas and they were going to take him to Richmond.
At Obando’s trial, it was disclosed that Moore had a blood-alcohol level of 0.20, or more than two times the presumptive legal intoxication limit to drive of 0.08. A toxicologist testified that the effects of that much alcohol in Moore’s system would have effected his judgment, such as not being able to pick up on social cues.
“Basically they saw him as an easy target and he was brutally murdered,” Fierro said.
A clerk told authorities she saw Moore attempt to kiss a Hispanic man — later identified as Obando — who pushed Moore away. After that encounter, another clerk heard Obando say, “I have a knife and will stab you.”
At Obando’s trial, Wadsworth testified that he himself was so intoxicated that, looking back on an encounter he had with Moore in the car as they were driving, he’s “not sure if Moore did make a pass at him or he was just kind of falling down drunk,” Fierro said. “So looking back, that is what was perceived, but I don’t know if that was actually what the intent was.”
During Obando’s sentencing hearing last week, Fierro played a portion of a YouTube video of Moore talking about his artwork during a 2013 exhibition at Art First Gallery in Fredericksburg.
Crowder was sentenced in May 2019 to serve nine years in prison for his role in the case. In a plea deal, he pleaded to voluntary manslaughter — reduced from first-degree murder — along with robbery, conspiracy to rob, concealing a dead body and conspiracy to conceal the body. He was sentenced to a total of 60 years with 51 years suspended.
In June 2019, Wadsworth pleaded guilty to similar charges. Under terms of his plea agreement, his active sentence was capped at nine years — the same as Crowder’s. With the Obando case concluded, Wadsworth is to be formally sentenced on Jan. 17.