Sometimes, in the process of researching one hate crime, I end up coming across another one — usually in a brief reference in an article about another crime — and make a note to look it up later. Sometimes I find more information about the assailants than the victim. Sometimes, they’re cases that remind me of others. The story of Nick Moraida is all of the above.
I stumbled across the Moraida case while researching another one, and initially it wasn’t the victim’s name that I found, but one of the assailants. And when I began to dig for information, I came across more information about the assailant than I did about the victim. That seems to be the way it usually is, when the victim is killed. Their story effectively ends, and is ended by the killer who — as a result — becomes the focus of the story.
What’s left of the victim is usually the recollections of surviving friends and family, which may or may not make it into news reports, because it concerns the past. The victim, after all, has no future. Nothing further can be done for them to change their circumstances. But the story of what’s happening to the killer is happening now.
Moraida’s case also reminded me of Michael Sandy, because of the similarities between their murders. Both were lured to their death by men who were posing as gay in order to lure and rob gay men, whom they believed would be less likely to report incidents to police, and perhaps less likely to resist. Moraida’s attackers posed as male prostitutes in order to lure and rob a gay man, to get money for drugs. Sandy’s attackers posed as gay in an online chat room, searching for gay men to rob, in order to get money to buy marijuana.
And in both cases, the assailants became the focus of the story. Sandy’s attackers have repeatedly made headlines during their trials, including claims that one of Sandy’s attackers is himself gay and had a penchant for showing up for sexual encounters wearing women’s underwear. In Moraida’s case, one of his attackers, who allegedly fired the fatal shot, ended up on death row, which launched a long campaign to save his life. The life and death of Nick Moraida, based on the reports I could find, got lost in the shuffle.
Nick Moraida (1959 – August 1, 1996), a 34-year-old gay Latino male, was murdered on August 8, 1996, during a robbery. His attackers – Richard Cartwright, Dennis Hagood, and Kelly Overstreet – had planned to rob a gay man by posing as male prostitutes in order to lure victims.
Hagood said Moraida winked at him, at which point they asked him if he wanted to go to a park and drink. Moraida gave Hagood a ride, while Cartwright and Overstreet followed them to a cul-de-sac off of Ocean Drive. The parked their cars and descended to a bluff below the road.1)
When the men got down to the sea wall, out of view from the road, Cartwright pulled a gun and said “This is a robbery. Put your hands on the cement [wall].”2) Cartwright had borrowed the gun, a .38 caliber revolver, was borrowed from Overstreet.3) Meanwhile, Overstreet held a knife to Moraida’s throat.4) The men took Moraida’s keys, watch, wallet, and an envelope containing $180 in cash.5)
While Hagood ran back up the bluff to open Moraida’s car6), the three robbers’ plan went awry when Moraida resisted and tried to run.7) Overstreet stabbed Moraida and slashed his throat, but failed to kill him.8)
When Overstreet’s attempt failed, Cartwright shot Moraida twice in the back.9) The three men fled and used the money obtained in the robbery to buy drugs.10)
Moraida’s body was discovered the next day by a fisherman and his grandson.11)
Medical examiner Dr. Lloyd White determined that the bullets fired by Cartwright killed Moraida, striking a lung, his heart and a large blood vessel carrying blood away from his heart.12)
After the three men were arrested, Overstreet and Hagood agreed to plea bargains in return for their testimony against Cartwright.13) Overstreet received a 50 year prison sentence, and Hagood received a 20 year sentence. Cartwright was offered a plea bargain that included a 40 year sentence, but turned it down.14)
Prior to his trial, Cartwright – a former mechanic who had previously served two-years in jail for drug conviction in Illinois – wrote letters to Overstreet and Hagood urging that they all agree on a single story. Authorities intercepted the letters. Authorities intercepted the letters and they were later used to help convict Cartwright.15)
In 1997, Cartwright was convicted of capitol murder and sentenced to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for a write of certoria in 1997. In 1998 Cartwright filed petition for state writ of habeaus corpus, which was denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals.16)
Cartwright always maintained his innocence, and took to the internet to make his case, via web sites where anti-death-penalty organizations posted his writings. On his web site, Cartwright makes many claims regarding his innocence. His mother wrote that Cartwright was not with the Overstreet and Hagood when Moraida was shot, but was waiting in the truck and sped off when he heard the gunshots. Overstreet and Hagood, the website says, swore they would get even with him for leaving them behind.17)
Cartwright himself wrote that he did not commit the crime, and links to a 1997 handwritten letter from Kelly Overstreet to his girlfriend in which Overstreet writes, “I have always hated fagots, but I didn’t mean to kill the little queen. I was pretty high that night and I guess my rage over came my ass. I guess this is what being a skinhead is all about.”18)
Less than an hour before Cartwright’s execution, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal which argued that Cartwright was convicted due to Overstreet’s false testimony. Overstreet gave a written statement to Cartwright’s Lawyers in which he stated, “I intentionally made Cartwright out to be the bad guy out of spite when in fact I am the one who was at the forefront of all events.” Overstreet wrote that he was upset at being turned in by Cartwright and Hagood.19)
Cartwright’s lawyers did not deny that Cartwright fired the fatal shots, but argued that he participated in the robbery and murder because he feared retaliation from Overstreet, who had a reputation for violence. “At most,” the appeal said, “he merely followed orders from a violent person he was afraid of and who had already threatened him.”20)
Cartwright was executed by lethal objection on May 19, 2005. He was pronounced dead at 6:15 p.m.21)
He delivered a brief final statement in which he thanked his supporters and apologized to the Moraida family “for any pain and suffering I caused.”22)
Moraida’s family did not attend the execution.23) However, the family did oppose Cartwright’s final bid for clemency. In her protest, Moraida’s sister Angela wrote:
“Cartwright went through the legal system and the judicial system decided to uphold the decision that he is guilty and should be put to death.”