BRATTLEBORO—The man Sultan Rashed referred to as his “buddy” when he was alive pleaded not guilty on Monday to shooting and killing him.
Leonard Moffatt, 39, of Sharon, is being held without bail at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield for first-degree murder, said Deputy State’s Attorney David Gartenstein after Moffatt’s brief arraignment in Windham Superior Court on Monday.
Police charge that Moffatt regularly met Rashed to buy drugs, and by some witness accounts, the alleged killer owed the deceased man $10,000.
According to his obituary, Rashed, 35, of Guilford Street, worked as a foreman for Lane Construction Company in Westfield, Mass. and was married since 2004 to the former Sheena Randall, “the love of his life.” The obituary describes Rashed as cherishing weekly swimming trips in White River Junction with their little boy, Mazin.
The story that emerged from court documents paints a different and tragic picture of Rashed as a drug dealer who died in his vehicle from a single gunshot to the forehead on the night of Nov. 8 in the parking lot of Brattleboro Collision Auto Body Shop at 64 Old Ferry Rd.
What was broadcast to the community as an untimely death — a category that includes many types of death, including homicide — quickly brought the Vermont State Police into the investigation.
According to a Nov. 13 affidavit of probable cause by Vermont State Police Det. Sgt. Richard Holden, Michael Henry, 62, an employee at the automotive business, discovered Rashed’s body at approximately 7:05 a.m.
Henry saw Rashed in the driver’s seat of the 2013 Ford Edge and first thought he was sleeping, wrote Holden.
But then, he “observed Sultan Rashed to have what appeared to be blood coming out of his ear,” wrote Holden.
Henry called 911, according to the affidavit.
Police say they observed Rashed, slumped over the steering wheel, with what appeared to be a wound to his right eye and chin. They noted that he was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt but no shoes.
Rashed’s car was locked. Investigators did not find keys or a weapon inside the vehicle, according to the affidavit.
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Elizabeth Bundock, who performed an autopsy the following day, ruled Rashed’s death a homicide, the court documents report.
A drug deal and a witness
Subsequent interviews with Rashed’s friends and family helped investigators form a timeline and establish connections that eventually led them to Moffatt.
Brattleboro Police said the victim’s widow, Sheena Rashed, told officers on Nov. 9 that her husband was not at their Guilford Street home when she awoke that morning. When she called his cell phone, it rang in the living room. This was unusual, she told officers.
In a Nov. 10 interview, Steven Jones, 45, outlined his last meeting with Sultan Rashed.
The two men met on the night of Sunday, Nov. 8, in the auto body shop’s parking lot, which doubles as the entrance to Casey Storage Solutions and that company’s U-Haul franchise.
Jones passed Rashed a Dunkin’ Donuts bag with $300 in the bottom, according to the affidavit. Before leaving, Jones picked up a tissue box containing cocaine that Rashed “previously secreted” in a truck bed of another vehicle in the parking lot.
Police say Jones noticed “an older model, possibly silverish sedan” in the parking lot when he arrived ahead of Rashed. The headlights of Jones’s car illuminated the unknown man’s face. He sat in the driver’s seat and appeared to be sleeping.
Jones gave a description of the Caucasian man, wearing eyeglasses, approximately 30 to 40 years old, with dark hair and a goatee, wrote Holden.
The description matched that given to police by other friends of Rashed.
According to the affidavit, Jones said he was nervous and discussed the unknown man with Rashed when he arrived.
Rashed told Jones “that the male in the other vehicle is a ‘buddy’ of his” there for a meeting.
Holden noted in the affidavit that a surveillance camera at Casey Storage captured images that supported Jones’s statements.
Police say the evidence shows that Moffatt’s car entered the parking lot and immediately left at 7:52 p.m., and that he returned to the lot shortly after 8 p.m.
The cameras show a vehicle that appeared to be Jones’s arrive at 8:28 p.m., then depart approximately 9 minutes later.
As he was leaving, Jones later told police, he saw Rashed park his car next to his “buddy.”
A link to a cell phone
Holden wrote that investigators requested a subpoena for Rashed’s cell phone records. The activity from his phone led law enforcement to request, in turn, a second subpoena for another phone.
This phone belonged to Krista Moffatt, who listed her address in Sharon.
Investigators then tracked down Krista Moffatt’s DMV records, where they found that she was the co-registrant of a 2004 Nissan Maxima with her husband, Leonard Moffatt.
These searches later led police to a Department of Motor Vehicles photo of Moffatt. Holden also checked Facebook and other social media sites.
The phone records in the affidavit show a series of texts between the Moffatt phone and one listed as Rashed’s on Nov. 8 arranging a meeting for 8:30 p.m. Police say that in the texts, Moffatt wrote that he was running early.
All outgoing activity on Rashed’s phone stopped after 8:06 p.m.
Through interviews with Rashed’s friends, investigators learned that two men believed to be from the White River Junction area “regularly met with [Rashed] at the Brattleboro Collision Auto Body parking lot on Sundays to procure drugs from [him].”
One of the men “reportedly carried a handgun and had run up a significant drug debt” with Rashed, wrote Holden.
An interview with Jerome Clement, 48, the man who introduced Moffatt and Rashed, led investigators to learn Moffatt’s drug debt totaled $10,000.
Clement described Moffatt “as being very dangerous.”
“He advised that Leonard [Moffatt] told him he wouldn’t be afraid ‘to cap someone’,” wrote investigators in the affidavit.
After two days of surveillance of Moffatt, police requested the court issue an arrest warrant on Nov. 13 for the crime of first-degree homicide.
According to a press release that Vermont State Police Public Information Officer Scott Waterman issued that day, “Detectives had telephone contact with Moffatt as recently as this morning. Moffatt had agreed to meet with detectives at the State Police barracks in Royalton but did not show up.”
After fruitlessly executing a search warrant at his home, “Troopers and detectives were actively searching for Moffatt when he was arrested without incident” at approximately 3 p.m. while driving on Route 14 in Sharon.
A criminal record
“Mr. Moffatt has a number of criminal convictions out of state,” Gartenstein told reporters after the arraignment.
Moffatt’s criminal record includes convictions for domestic assault and disorderly conduct based on arrests in Hartford in 2004, simple assault convictions in New Hampshire in 2007, and two assault charges in New York in 2000.
His criminal record for Vermont also noted that Moffatt had failed to appear for court proceedings.
Moffatt is also “Brady disqualified,” meaning he is not allowed to own a handgun under federal law.
Gartenstein said no additional court dates are scheduled at this time. He could not speculate whether a follow-up affidavit would be filed with the court.
“The investigation is ongoing,” he said.