His victim’s family calls him a murderer and Orchard Park police call him an executioner, but Ronald “Todd” Epps will be sentenced today for insurance fraud.
In order to prove that he was guilty of that crime, federal prosecutors first had to persuade a jury that he killed his fiancee, Angela Moss, in order to collect on a $100,000 life insurance policy.
Homicide is a state crime, not federal, but the local prosecutor at the time, former Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III, suggested he did not prosecute because he didn’t think the evidence was strong enough to sway a jury.
Orchard Park police then went to federal prosecutors, who took the strategy of prosecuting for insurance fraud, and they won a conviction last year.
And Friday is the day of reckoning for Epps of Amherst, seven years after Moss was found dead with a bullet in her head at the side of a road in Orchard Park. He faces a minimum of 35 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison.
“It will never be enough,” Angela Moss’ mother, Stacey, said after Epps’ conviction a year ago.
Now 48, Epps was never charged with murder but the allegation that he killed Moss in August 2009 in Orchard Park was at the center of his trial on insurance fraud, arson, drug dealing and weapons charges.
“We’re obviously pleased for the family,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa M. Marangola said after the verdict.
Prosecutors portrayed Epps as greedy and controlling. They said he shot Moss in the back of the head and left her body alongside California Road, not far from the nursing home where she worked as a nurse.
“This was nothing short of an execution, make no mistake about it,” said Orchard Park Police Chief Mark Pacholec.
Epps did not take the witness stand during the trial, but his defense attorney, Cheryl Meyers Buth, tried to poke holes in the prosecution’s case during the two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
It was early on the morning of Aug. 28, 2009, when a co-worker headed to work found Moss’ body. She was last seen alive at 11 p.m. the previous night, shortly after finishing her nursing shift at Absolut Care, an Orchard Park nursing home.
For three years, the murder went unsolved.
Then, in 2012, a federal grand jury indicted Epps on drugs and weapons charges. A second grand jury followed suit a few months later with new charges of fraud and arson.
Prosecutors called several wintnesses, including a former neighbor who testified that Epps approached him shortly after Moss’ death and offered to pay him $50,000 to kill her mother. He said Epps was angry over Mary Moss’ legal attempts to stop him from collecting on her daughter’s life insurance.
The neighbor, Stanley Hall, also said he overheard Epps argue with Angela Moss one day during the summer of 2009, shortly before she was killed, and end the conversation by saying, “Before I let you go, I’ll kill you.”
Hall wasn’t the only witness to relate stories of Epps’ alleged threats.
Tamika Carter, who met Epps a few months before Moss’ murder, said he often complained about his fiancée and, on one occasion, shortly before Moss’ murder, sent her a text that said, “I’m going to kill that -----.”
Carter also testified about a bag that Epps left in her car the day of the murder, a bag other witnesses said contained guns, and about their conversations over his plans to set fire to his Amherst apartment house in order to collect on his renters’ insurance.
There was no mention of Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III after the verdict in federal coaurt last year, but the federal prosecutor did refer many times to the fact that Epps was never charged with murder.
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., who described Epps as a “sinister individual,” stopped short of criticizing Sedita’s decision not to prosecute but, at the same time, suggested the federal prosecution was more complex.
“We had to prove murder plus motive,” he said of his office’s prosecution.
When asked if he would have prosecuted Epps for murder, Hochul declined to answer last year.
“Those questions should really be directed at the district attorney down the street,” he said.
Since Epps’ indictment on insurance fraud, the allegation that he killed Moss as part of the fraud has reignited criticism over what some law enforcement officials view as Sedita’s overly cautious approach to difficult cases in order to keep his conviction rate high.
In the past, Sedita has declined to comment on the Epps case, but at one point did suggest the evidence may not have been strong enough to convict him.
Epps’ conviction is the result of an investigation by the Orchard Park Police, Amherst Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.