THE PILOT EDITORIAL - Why was killing suspect free?

Thursday, September 6, 2001

There are no answers to a stunning tragedy like the one that claimed the lives of a Sioux City women, her five children and a businessman.

There can be no sane explanation for such violence.

One more question that will never be answered - why was the suspect arrested in the crimes, Adam Moss, walking the streets at all?

According to a newspaper report, he had a criminal record as long as your arm, starting when he was 15 years old. He reportedly has 25 different court files, but has served time only once, briefly, in December of 1995 on a theft conviction. That same year, he escaped a prison sentence for robbery, theft and assault while taking part in a felony. A plea bargain to a lesser charge let him escape with a mild fine and probation.

He has been convicted of theft and assault and has twice been accused of domestic abuse, according to the report. Just a month ago another woman accused Moss of physical abuse, convincingly enough that a court order was granted to keep him away. Just days before the deaths, he was accused again of domestic abuse by his own brother. Again, a protective order was issued to keep Moss away - but no arrest mentioned in either instance.

Court records are said to indicate that he had tangled with the law on everything from alcohol to vehicle violations, assault causing bodily injury to child support payment orders to habitually not showing up in court - as in the domestic abuse hearing he skipped just last Thursday, shortly after the deaths. Other dated charges, from juvenile delinquency to burglary, theft and possession of stolen property were dismissed at various times.

Like any other suspect, Adam Moss is innocent until proven guilty of these horrible murders.

Yet one has to wonder why he was around to be a suspect at all. How many abuse reports, how many legal violations, how many cases of crimes against others does it take to spend some serious time in prison?

Moss' ugly record gives no indication that a mass murder was coming, certainly; but it does speak of habitual asocial behavior, alleged threats against others and a very troubled young man.

We know Iowa's prisons are overcrowded, and how expensive it is to keep prisoners. We know of the system's efforts at providing a second chance and rehabilitation. We know the value of treating each case individually and in fairness to a defendant.

But if Adam Moss' 26th court file eventually becomes a conviction for murder, all the second chances the man was given would do nothing to bring back five innocent children. If so, nobody was done a favor.