BRADENTON — Kidnapper Vincente Ignacio Beltran-Moreno faces life behind bars for abducting 13-year-old Clay Moore from his bus stop in 2007.
Beltran-Moreno, 24, showed no emotion Thursday as a court clerk read the jury’s verdict convicting him of armed kidnapping with a firearm. The jury of three men and three women spent about two hours deliberating.
“Justice was served, that is all I can say,” Clay’s father, Tim Moore, said outside the courtroom.
Beltran-Moreno kidnapped Clay from his Parrish school bus stop on Feb. 23, 2007, forcing him into his truck at gunpoint. Beltran-Moreno then drove Clay to a farm in East Manatee and bound him to a tree with duct tape and shoelaces.
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In a dramatic escape that garnered national attention, Clay managed to free himself with a safety pin he had hidden in his mouth during his kidnapping.
“I just thought I would need it,” Clay, now 15, testified this week.
Circuit Judge Thomas Gallen set sentencing for Sept. 11.
Assistant Public Defender Matthew Gish even admitted his client’s guilt before the jury went to deliberations.
“I am not going to stand here and tell you he is not guilty,” Gish told jurors in his closing argument.
But Gish did ask the jury to convict Beltran-Moreno of a lesser crime of false imprisonment, which carries a maximum of five years in prison. Gish argued Beltran-Moreno did not kidnap Clay with the intent to obtain a ransom, which is what prosecutor Brian Iten presented the jury.
Iten showed jurors the ransom notes Beltran-Moreno had his girlfriend write sometime before he kidnapped Clay. Gish argued the ransom notes did not apply to the kidnapping because they were not used on the day of the crime. Investigators found them after the kidnapping in the trash outside Beltran-Moreno’s home.
Gish’s argument didn’t stand up to the law, Iten said, because the ransom notes showed Beltran-Moreno had planned to kidnap someone. And, Iten argued, Beltran-Moreno made Clay give him his parents’ phone numbers during the kidnapping.
Clay testified Beltran-Moreno called his father’s number and the boy’s home phone, but didn’t get an answer.
“It is clear he sought a ransom,” Iten said in his closing arguments.
The jury agreed, but members declined to comment on whether they had discussed Gish’s plea for the lesser charge.
Jury member Charles Ladensak did speak of the group’s decision to find Beltran-Moreno guilty.
“Justice was served here today,” he said.
Outside the courthouse, Iten said he was pleased with the verdict.
The prosecutor noted how airtight case the case was — they had DNA evidence, fingerprints and an extensive confession by Beltran-Moreno. And he recalled the fast pace in which he, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and FBI investigated the case, writing search warrants for Beltran-Moreno’s house in the middle of the night just days after the kidnapping.
As for Clay, who wasn’t present for the verdict, Iten praised the boy’s courage in dealing with his ordeal.
“He is a remarkable young man who did a tremendous job of bouncing back,” Iten said. “He was a great witness. Very confident.”