‘Facts in this case are inescapable:’ Patrick McDowell’s penalty phase starts with opening statement

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. — Day one of the penalty phase for the man who shot and killed a Nassau County deputy started with opening statements from prosecutors.


Patrick McDowell pleaded guilty to first-degree murder after shooting and killing Deputy Joshua Moyers in Sept. 2021. Now jurors will decide whether to recommend that McDowell gets life in prison or a death sentence.

“The lifeless body of Joshua Moyers lies on the hard pavement...his body illuminated only by the bright lights of his patrol car he used to stop Patrick McDowell,” State Prosecutor Chris Huband said during opening statements. “What should’ve been a routine traffic stop forced McDowell to make a decision...that decision was to go back to jail on a warrant or shoot a police officer through the face.”

The burden is on the state to establish five aggravating circumstances:

  • The victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in legal duty at the time of the murder
  • Murder was carried out in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner
  • Murder occurred to prevent or escape a lawful arrest
  • Before sentencing, the defendant had been convicted of a felony for the use of force against a person
  • Murder was committed by someone on felony probation at the time

“While McDowell escaped capture for five days, the facts of this case are inescapable as well as the consequences,” Chris Huband, on the prosecution team, said. “Patrick McDowell should be sentenced to death.”

The defense deferred its opening statements until after the state completes its case.

Deputy David Barnes, with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, was called to the stand. He was the first one to arrive on the scene after Moyers was shot in the face. He has known Moyers since 2018 and was his mentor.

“I just found my friend and mentor shot in the face...so I was trying to calm myself down and do my job at the same time,” he said. He later joined the days-long manhunt. “We don’t get to check off when something bad happens. We still have a job to do.”

The prosecution also showed Moyers’ dashcam video from the shooting and body cam video from a Jacksonville Sheriff’s officer from during the manhunt when police said McDowell shot and injured a police canine.

“I was in fear for my life. I was in fear for all the officers with me. It was pitch black in the woods,” Officer Matthew Zona said.

McDowell was not in the car alone during the traffic stop. Noelle Gale was also there with him. She got drugs from McDowell that night and they smoked meth before plans to go shooting in the woods.

Gale took the stand and said they were smoking in a gas station parking lot and did not notice Moyers sitting in his patrol car at the time. After the shooting, McDowell sped off with Gale in the passenger seat.

“He told me it was either him or the cop. I was freaking out. He just kept saying he was sorry,” she said. She was eventually able to escape and call 911.

“Why did you go with him?” prosecutors asked. “I guess out of shock. He grabbed my arm. I didn’t know where I was,” she said.

During cross-examination, the defense honed in on McDowell’s mental state after smoking meth. Defense Attorney Alan Chipperfield asked if McDowell was “wired” and “sometimes up for days at a time and made bad behaviors” while under the influence. Gale confirmed that to be the case. The defense will likely use that argument as a mitigating factor.

Day one ended just before 5 p.m. Monday after several deputies and crime scene analysts took the stand. The penalty phase will continue on Tuesday morning.

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