BRADENTON — Kidnapper Vincente Ignacio Beltran-Moreno faces life behind bars after a jury found him guilty today of abducting 13-year-old Clay Moore from his bus stop in 2007.
Beltran-Moreno, 24, showed no emotion as a court clerk read the 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.
The jury found Beltran-Moreno kidnapped Clay from his Parrish 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.
The case garnered national attention as Clay said during his ordeal he freed himself with a safety pin he hid in his mouth during his kidnapping.
“I just thought I would need it,” Clay, now 15, testified earlier in the week.
Circuit Judge Thomas Gallen set sentencing for Sept. 11. Beltran-Moreno faces life in prison.
Assistant Public Defender Matthew Gish admitted his client’s guilt during his closing argument before the jury went to deliberations.
“I am not going to stand here and tell you he is not guilty,” Gish told jurors.
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 had presented the jury.
Iten had presented jurors with ransom notes Beltran-Moreno had his girlfriend pen 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 in the trash after the kidnapping outside Beltran-Moreno’s home.
Gish’s argument didn’t stand up to the law, Iten said, because the ransom notes still showed Beltran-Moreno had planned to kidnap someone, and he made Clay give him phone numbers for his parents during the kidnapping. Clay testified Beltran-Moreno called his father’s phone number and the boy’s home phone to no answer.
“It is clear he sought a ransom,” Iten said in closing arguments.
The jury agreed, but members declined to comment on whether the panel 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.
Iten said outside the courthouse that he was pleased with the verdict. He said his job was aided by what he said was an airtight case, including DNA and fingerprint evidence, as well as an extensive confession by Beltran-Moreno.
He recalled the fast pace to which he, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and FBI investigated the case, remembering writing search warrants’ for Beltran-Moreno’s house in the middle of the night days after the kidnapping. Beltran-Moreno fled to Mexico after the kidnapping and was coaxed back to the United States to surrender by FBI and sheriff’s office investigators.
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.”