A Pasco County man who abducted and shot his estranged wife received 25 years in prison Monday, sparing him from a trial with blood-curdling 911 tapes and a possible life sentence.
Rudolph Mark Moats, 40, pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder, armed kidnapping and two counts of aggravated assault for the July 2008 abduction of Donna Sue Moats.
Attorneys came to court poised to begin jury selection ahead of a four-day trial but an unexpected month-long delay prompted the victim to accept the last-minute plea deal offered by Moats' attorney, Assistant Public Defender Andy Gonzalez.
Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee said the victim wanted to resolve the case rather than wait another month."It was her decision to go ahead and accept that," he said.
Under an agreement, Moats will serve his entire sentence, the minimum mandatory term allowed under state codes.
The Lacoochee resident and Disney employee faced a life sentence if convicted at trial.
Authorities arrested him July 1, 2008, after a five-hour pursuit that started in Brooksville and ended in Flagler County, on the state's east coast, according to court documents detailing interviews with the Moats and his wife.
It began about 11 a.m. after the two had lunch together at Hardee's. He picked her up at Wal-Mart, where she works, and said he wanted to talk about the impending divorce. They married when he was 19 and she was 15 and pregnant.
Instead of driving her back after lunch, Moats began roaming the roads in a remote area northeast of Brooksville, the documents say. In previous conversations, he threatened to kill her, their daughter and himself if she didn't get together with him.
Near Cyrano Avenue, he reached for a small black BB gun. She grabbed it and threw it out the window, thinking it was a real handgun.
Donna Moats then opened the door and jumped while the SUVwas still moving. He stopped and got out of the SUV with a shotgun he took from his father's house the day before.
Moats waved the gun at a passing car, telling the driver to keep on driving.
He then grabbed Donna Moats and pushed her into the car at gunpoint. On a 911 call, a woman who lived nearby said she heard a gunshot.
Donna Moats said she was sitting in the passenger seat when he pointed the 20-gauge shotgun at her as he drove. She said he pulled the trigger, hitting her in the chest with bird shot.
Rudolph Moats told authorities a different story, saying the shooting occurred outside the car. He said he told his wife he was going to kill himself and she grabbed the gun. In the struggle, it accidentally fired, he said.
He said he was scared and didn't know what to do, so he kept driving. He said he "lost it."
The prosecutor planned to focus specifically on 911 calls to describe what happened in the car during the hours-long ordeal while authorities tried unsuccessfully to find Donna Moats.
Bleeding and clutching her wound, she managed to reach her cell phone and make two 911 calls holding the phone by her side to hide it. On the tape, she screams: "Help me, I've been shot. I've been shot into the heart by a shotgun. I'm dying, sir. I'm dying. I'm dying, help me. I don't know where I'm at."
She pleads with Moats to take her to a hospital. He then took her phone, prosecutors said, and continued driving east toward Orlando.
About 45 minutes later, he gave Donna Moats the phone again to call their 19-year-old daughter to say goodbye. The daughter called 911 but her mother gave her no indication of her location. In a tearful phone call, the daughter said Moats had abused her mother previously and threatened to kill them if they told authorities.
A couple of hours later, Donna Moats' condition deteriorated and she began to vomit. Rudolph Moats took her to a hospital in St. Augustine and fled.
Hospital workers found her in critical condition and rushed her into emergency surgery. Authorities from St. John's County chased Moats down Interstate 95 at speeds topping 100 mph. In neighboring Flagler County at 3:15 p.m. he crashed into a tree.
Authorities arrested him and found an empty shotgun shell in his pocket.
Rudolph Moats' attorney labeled the case a "family tragedy."
"He's still able to be a father and a grandfather when he gets out," he said.
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.