Billy Moore: Living on Death Row
By Renelle Richardson
The 700 Club
The year was 1974. Twenty-two-year-old Army Private Billy Moore returned from deployment in Germany only to find that his wife was involved with a drug dealer and addicted to heroin. To protect their 3-year-old son, Billy took him and moved into a trailer. But Billy’s paychecks from the army were in his wife’s name, and it was going to take the army 90 days to get it changed.
“I told them, ‘I don’t have 90 days. I have my son with me now and I need finances now because I have to take care of him,’” Billy said.
Billy sought help from various charities and pled with the military to speed up the process of getting his funds to him, but no one could help.
“Bills began to come in. Having a trailer we were living in with no food and no furniture, it was at the point where what else can I do?” he said.
Then a friend of Billy’s gave him a tip about a man who had $20,000 to $30,000 cash in his home. Billy had no criminal history, but burglary seemed to be the only solution to his financial dilemma. Late one night, he broke into the man’s home. While fumbling around in the dark, he felt something hit his leg. It was the man’s rifle.
“As soon as it hits me it goes off and it scares me,” Billy said. “So, the pistol I had in my pocket, I just pulled it out and shot in the direction of where the blast came from. And then I heard somebody fall. I took two steps and the string from the light hits my face. So I grab it and pull it and the light comes on. And so I see Mr. Stapleton lying on the floor face down. I looked at his pants. There were two wallets in his pants that were full of money, so I took the wallets. I turned around and –I don’t know why- I picked up the rifle. I walk down the street to my car, throw the wallets and the gun in the car.”
The next day, some officers paid Billy a visit.
“The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground with six shotguns in my face,” he said. “They told me, ‘Just make one move so we can kill you.’ I knew then that that was it; that my life and my son’s life was over. I had just messed up everybody’s life, not just my family, but Mr. Stapleton’s family.”
At his trial, Billy pled guilty to burglary and first degree murder. His lawyer felt confident that Billy would serve prison time with the possibility of parole.
“I got on the stand and I explained everything that happened to the judge. I told him how sorry I was, that the murder wasn’t planned and that I didn’t mean to do it; but I did do it and because of that I am pleading guilty. I am responsible for that. He said, ‘Well you did a good and honorable thing by pleading guilty. You did a good thing by not causing the court to spend a lot of money on a trial. However, on Friday, September the 13th, between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. you will be taken from the county jail to the state prison and you will be executed until you are dead.”
Billy was led to the cell where he was to spend the last three months of his life.
“The pain and the guilt was so intense that I felt the only thing that would help would be to kill myself. So I’m lying there with this razor blade to my throat and I have never heard God speak at a church or anywhere. But I’m in this cell by myself in the dark and I hear, ‘If you are so sad and upset about killing someone, why are you going to do it again?’ I cut myself loose knowing that whatever happened was in God’s hands,” Billy said.
Billy’s sentence shook his family. His aunt was a Christian and was praying that Billy would accept Jesus as his savior. She asked her pastor and his wife to visit her nephew in prison just seven days before his execution. Billy clearly remembers the pastor’s words.
“’We want you to know that Jesus Christ loves you and that God is a just God,’ he said, ‘and we love you too.’ I was like, ‘What?’ I had never heard about Jesus from the perspective that they talked about it,” Billy said. “And I could feel the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know what it was, but I could feel that peace as they were telling me that God loved me. He knew what I did and He still loved me and He died for me. That just blew me away.”
Billy prayed with them to accept Jesus into his life. He was baptized that same day, and he knew a change had taken place.
“The guilt about the crime was gone; not the memory –I still remember it. But the guilt that Satan was using to kill me with was gone,” Billy said. “Finally, I had peace. When I went back upstairs, I’m dripping wet, and the inmates said, ‘Man, what happened to you?’”
“’I got baptized,’” Billy said.
“‘Yeah, if I were going to get executed in a week I’d get baptized too!’ one said. I said, ‘You can say what you want. I have finally done something that I know that is right. I know this is what I’m supposed to do.’”
September 13th arrived and Billy prepared to die.
“I’m just waiting to go be executed. Friday passed. Nothing happened,” Billy said. “I’m like, ‘Thank you Lord. I don’t know what’s going on, but I thank you that this didn’t happen.’”
Billy’s lawyer forgot to inform him that his case went to an automatic appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court. He was given a new execution date. But the case went for appeal once again. Over the course of 16 and a half long years, Billy had 13 execution dates, all of which were postponed. He studied the Bible, taught Bible studies to fellow inmates, and even earned his bachelor’s degree from a Bible college. But no matter how he filled his days, the inevitable loomed in his conscience: one day, like the 13 others who disappeared from his cellblock, he too would be strapped to the electric chair and executed.
EXECUTION DATE APPROACHES
After 16 and a half long years on death row, Billy Moore’s execution date was set for May 24th, 1984. No more appeals. No more court dates. No more postponements. Then a few weeks before his execution, he says there was one thing he felt the Lord told him to do - write a letter of apology to his victim’s family.
“How do you write somebody and apologize for killing their father or their brother or uncle?” Billy said. “The letter was simple. I said, ‘If you can find it in your heart to forgive me I would appreciate it; but if not, I understand because if I was you, I wouldn’t do it either. I began to get letters back where they said that they were Christian people and they forgive me. I wrote them back thanking them for their forgiveness and they wrote me back and it started this correspondence where we were writing every week.”
The day finally arrived when Billy was taken to the deathwatch cell. He would stay there for 72 hours before being led to the electric chair.
“When I went to the captain’s office he said, ‘Here’s your execution warrant, read it. That makes things final.’ Then he says, ‘After we kill you, what do you want us to do with your body? We can bury you here or your family can come and take your body.’ It’s like you’re preparing for somebody else’s funeral, but it’s yours,” Billy said.
Fear flooded Billy’s mind as he walked to the deathwatch cell that day.
“I got this manual about what has happened to certain people when they were executed. How their eyes would pop out of their head, how their teeth would shatter, how their skin would catch on fire, how they would defecate on themselves. All this was going through my mind,” Billy said. “And I was like, ‘God, is this what’s going to happen? When the current hits, is it going to immediately kill me? Or will I linger on?’”
Billy tried his best to stay calm. He read his Bible, but the intense pain of what was to come distracted him from focusing on God.
“The smell in this area - you could smell the antiseptic, but you could also smell the burning of flesh. You could smell death in there,” Billy said.
Billy did his best to focus on the Lord and remain calm. But then something occurred that instantly turned his focus into fury. It was a letter from Billy’s ex-wife explaining that Billy Jr. was not, in fact, his son.
“After reading that, it was like I was just hit in the stomach by Mike Tyson,” he said. “All the air came out. I’m just going to have a heart attack and die.”
As he struggled to get control of his thoughts, Billy says, the Lord spoke audibly to him: “You shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”
“I’m saying, ‘Lord, is this You? Are You telling me that I’m not going to be executed?’
I could feel the Holy Spirit every time I read this,” Billy said. “I’m saying, ‘God, how do I stand on this? How do I make this mine?’ And it came to me, ‘Faith comes by hearing.’ I said, ‘OK, I get it. I have to say this.’ So I’m walking back and forth in the cell saying, ‘Jesus said I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.’ The guard said, ‘What did you say?’ I said, ‘Jesus said I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.’ He said, ‘What makes you think you’re going to live and your friends died?’ I said, ‘Jesus said I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.’
The guards began preparing Billy for execution. They were about to shave his head, when they were interrupted.
“The sergeant came out of the office and said, ‘What are you doing with him?’ They said, ‘We’re going to shave his head.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not. I just got a phone call from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal,” Billy said.
Billy had gotten a stay of execution – seven hours and 15 minutes before the scheduled time. What Billy didn’t know was that his victim’s family not only forgave him, but they, along with local groups, petitioned the courts to set Billy free! He spent six more years in prison. Then on November 8th, 1991, Billy was released. He is now married, an ordained minister who travels the globe speaking about the power of forgiveness, and he remains in contact with his victim’s family and Billy Jr.
“Christ forgave me,” he said, “and the same way and the same power is extended to everyone. A lot of people think that I’m special and that God’s done something special for me. But when we look at it, He did something special for all of us when He died on the cross. As He said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’”Can God change your life?
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