By Jimmy Simms
Co-defendants in the city of Cullman’s only unsolved murder case are slated to stand trial for the September 1995 beating death of a Cullman man the week of June 26.
Johnny Owens Moore, 47, of Hanceville and Henry Duane Rothrock, 44, of Guntersville are charged with murdering John Dwight Ellard nearly 11 years ago.
Both Moore and Rothrock were arrested by Cullman police July 6, 2004, some 10 months after local authorities decided to reopen the case after it had been closed for several years.
Rothrock and Moore were released on bond within days of their arrests. Moore, court records disclosed at the time, suffers from AIDS.
Their cases have been placed on the trial docket a number of times over the past two years only to be continued.
Cullman County District Attorney Wilson Blaylock said the state is now prepared to bring those cases to trial. The only decision left to be made is whether the defendants will be tried separately or together.
“We have all of our witnesses in place and we’re prepared to proceed to trial,” Blaylock said. “For the sake of expediency and cost we’d prefer that the cases be consolidated, and I will likely submit a motion to that effect to Circuit Court Judge Frank Brunner. If the judge rules the cases must be tried separately then we’ll make the decision whether to go with Rothrock first or Moore. I’m not prepared to make that decision today.”
According to Investigative Sgt. Craig Montgomery, forensics evidence confirmed Ellard, who was 66 at the time of his death, had been beaten to death, possibly with a hammer or similar object, and that he had been dead for several days when his body was found on Sept. 25, 1995.
The case sat inactive for several years without a single suspect. That changed, however, after the case was reopened in September 2003.
Police were hopeful a renewed investigation into Ellard’s death might spark new evidence which could possibly lead to a suspect. Their persistence paid off in July 2004 with the arrests of Moore and Rothrock.
“This was a vicious homicide,” said Cullman Police Capt. Max Bartlett. “Mr. Ellard had been deceased for a couple of days when his body was found. It was one of those whodunit cases. There is no telling how many man hours have gone into this case and we’re delighted that the case is finally going to trial.”
Ironically, this will be Rothrock’s second time to face murder charges in a Cullman County courtroom.
Rothrock was acquitted on Sept. 24, 2001, on charges he contracted to murder his common-law wife.
Rothrock faced charges he had hired and assisted a hit man in killing Tammy Lynn Croft in March 1997. The trigger man Doyle Far was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in February 2001.
In making his decision to issue a directed judgment of acquittal, Circuit Court Judge Don Hardeman concluded the state had failed to present enough evidence linking Rothrock to the murder.
The acquittal, Hardeman said after the ruling, was not intended as an opinion on whether Rothrock participated in the crime, but instead was based on his opinion that the state failed to prove Rothrock’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
District Attorney Len Brooks, who served as lead prosecutor in the case, did not protest the ruling.
By Jimmy Simms
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