MANATEE — For an hour, Clay Moore lay in woods with duct tape over his eyes, a sock shoved in his mouth, and bound with duct tape and shoelaces to two trees, wondering whether his kidnapper was coming back, the boy told jurors Wednesday morning.
Clay had not heard his kidnapper return so he started the long process of freeing himself with a safety pin he had worn on his ripped jacket to his bus stop on the morning of Feb. 23, 2007.
Clay calmly described for jurors an ordeal that began when prosecutors say Vincente Ignacio Beltran-Moreno kidnapped the boy, then 13, at gunpoint from his Parrish bus stop, pulled him into a truck and drove the teen to Falkner Farms in rural East Manatee.
Clay, 15, testified as prosecutors continued to make their case against Beltran-Moreno on an armed kidnapping charge. He faces life in prison if convicted.
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“He pulled up and demanded that I get in his truck,” Clay said of his first encounter with his kidnapper.
Clay was not asked to identify Beltran-Moreno in court, saying he never got a full look at the man because he had on sunglasses. Clay said the man pointed a gun at him and forced him into his truck against his will, as the boy pleaded, “What did I do?”
The man finally stopped at Falkner Farms, off State Road 64, and began talking on a cell phone outside the truck.
It was then, Clay said, he pulled a safety pin from his jacket his family had used to hold together a tear. He stuck it in his mouth.
“I thought I might need it,” Clay said.
The boy said the man then forced him out of the truck and into woods, where he bound Clay’s wrists and legs with duct tape. Beltran-Moreno would later tell the FBI the duct tape wasn’t tight enough so he used the teen’s shoelaces to tie him to trees, according to the defendant’s recorded confession.
Clay said the man then stuffed the teen’s sock in his mouth and covered his eyes with duct tape. The boy heard the man leave for a short time, but he came back.
“I could hear him walking around the woods,” Clay said.
The man then put a bag over Clay’s head, which the boy later realized was his own bookbag he had brought with him to the bus stop. The man left the woods again, but Clay said he was too scared to move.
Eventually, Clay did act, spitting out the sock and ripping the tape off his eyes with what little mobility he had with his fingers. The safety pin had flown out of his mouth when he spit the sock out, so he had to get it back within reach.
“I grabbed a stick and pulled it close enough to the get it. Then I started picking at the knot on the tree,” Clay said.
Clay said it took about an hour and a half to cut through the shoelace. Once he cut through, he used his teeth to rip the duct tape off his wrists, the boy told jurors.
Escaping from the woods, he flagged down a farmer and called his stepfather, then surrounded by loved ones and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies frantically searching for the boy. The family later reunited with Clay at Manatee Memorial Hospital.
After Clay testified, his father Tim Moore said his son was relieved to have his appearance in court behind him. Closing arguments in the trial are expected to begin today.
“He seems to be doing fine,” Moore said. “This is a chapter we can put behind us, hopefully, Thursday, and it is long overdue.” Beltran-Moreno showed no emotion as Clay recounted his story, and Assistant State Attorney Brian Iten spent the rest of the morning questioning crime technicians who found his DNA and fingerprints on evidence found in the woods, in the truck and at Beltran-Moreno’s girlfriend’s home.
Ana Pureco-Tinoco, 23, testified that on the day of the kidnapping, she heard an Amber Alert on television saying a boy had been kidnapped. She immediately feared the worst as Beltran-Moreno had been talking about kidnapping someone for days as the couple fell on hard financial times. She asked him about the Amber Alert.
“He said that was the boy that he had kidnapped,” Pureco-Tinoco told jurors. “At that point, I wasn’t myself. I was shocked. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Investigators have said Beltran-Moreno had his girlfriend write a ransom note before the kidnapping, and that she drove him to the U.S.-Mexico border after Clay escaped. She later helped the FBI and sheriff’s deputies locate him in Mexico.
Pureco-Tinoco testified in court in shackles five months after being sentenced to just under three years prison for helping Beltran-Moreno after the kidnapping.
Even after going to prison, Pureco-Tinoco expressed her feelings for the father of her two children.
“You still love him, don’t you?” prosecutor Iten asked.
“Yes, I do,” she said.