A Georgia woman who represented herself at her own murder trial was convicted on Monday of starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter to death, then burning her body.
Tiffany Moss, 36, was found guilty on all eight counts against her—including malice murder, felony murder, first-degree cruelty to children, and concealing the death of another—for her repeated abuse of Emani Moss, who died in 2013.
The Gwinnett County jury reached their verdict in less than three hours. The mother of two, who represented herself during the trial, now faces the death penalty.
“[Emani] wasn’t a child to her,” Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Lisa Jones said in her closing argument on Friday. “She was nothing. She was a nuisance. She was ugly. She was a pain. She was disposable. She was trash.”
Prosecutors argued that after the child died, Moss and her husband, Eman Moss, doused her body with an accelerant and set her on fire outside of their apartment in an attempt to cover up their crimes. Eman Moss is already serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in 2015 for his role in his daughter’s death.
“This is a case where you only have an evil stepmother,” Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said at the start of the trial, describing the case as “a Cinderella story gone horribly wrong.” “As a result of that, a 11-year-old child is starved to death while her own children remained healthy and happy.”
Prosecutors accused Moss of “deliberately starving” Emani and sometimes even beating her with a brown leather belt. The abuse got so extreme, Jones said, Emani would often run away and sleep outside in bushes to escape her stepmom.
On Oct. 24, 2013, her father returned home from work and found Emani unresponsive in a bathtub. Taking her out of the tub, Eman Moss placed his only daughter in her bed, prosecutors said. The 10-year-old died several days later. She was denied food the entire time, prosecutors said.
“Emani died in that room, in her own filth and waste, by herself while this defendant watched TV and cooked lasagna,” Jones said.
When authorities found 10-year-old Emani Moss’ body in a trash can on Nov. 2, 2013, she weighed 32 pounds, the approximate size of a toddler.
“She was more or less skin and bones,” Dr. Michele Stauffenberg, the medical examiner who conducted Emani’s autopsy, testified on Friday. “She was extremely thin and emaciated. She had a starved look.”
Eman Moss also testified against his wife on Thursday in accordance with his plea deal, detailing the weeks leading up to his daughter’s death and the moment they realized she was dead.
“[Tiffany] was saying, ‘We can’t call 911. We’ve got to hide the body,’” he said, adding that they kept the child’s body in their apartment for several days while they figured out their next move. Moss, who was still on probation for an earlier abuse charge, told her husband she was scared she would lose custody of her two biological children.
“We talked about concealing her death, making it seem like she ran away,” the father said while Tiffany stared at him in court emotionless.
Eman Moss testified that while his wife wanted to bury the 10-year-old, he went to Home Depot and bought a galvanized trash can, trash bags, charcoal, and lighter fluid as part of an attempt to cremate her body. Eventually, he called police, unable to live with the guilt, he said.
Moss did not mount a defense at trial, and did not make a closing argument on Friday. Her court-appointed standby lawyers, Brad Gardner and Emily Gilbert, asked the judge on Friday to let them step in on their clients’ behalf, but their request was declined.
The lawyers, who were assigned to Moss from the State Office of the Capital Defender, also filed a motion on Thursday requesting they be allowed to represent Moss during the sentencing phase of the trial “should she be found guilty,” according to court records.
“The jury will have nothing upon which to base a life sentence, not because Mrs. Moss wanted the death penalty, but because she was incapable of representing herself,” Gardner wrote in a motion.
If sentenced to death, Moss would be the third woman executed in Georgia.