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When Duty Didn't Call

Robert Cutler counted on the Cleveland Police to catch the man who beat and robbed him. That, says his family, was his fatal mistake.


Cleveland Police Sergeant Cristino DeJesus had been on shift only a few hours January 3 when his cell phone rang. It was his brother-in-law, Timothy Moulder, and he needed help. Friends had spotted Moulder's face on a Crime Stoppers flier that afternoon, he told DeJesus. He had no idea why he was wanted.

After being married to Moulder's sister for 12 years, DeJesus knew his brother-in-law was no altar boy. He had been in and out of prison since age 19, his crimes growing more serious with each arrest. But Moulder insisted he was clean.

DeJesus hung up, then called Moulder 30 minutes later to get his Social Security number. With that, he logged into a police database. It showed Moulder was wanted for aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and felonious assault involving the gunpoint robbery of roofing company owner Robert Cutler in April 1999. Cutler had picked Moulder out of a photo lineup, and an arrest warrant had been issued in March 2000.

DeJesus called Moulder a second time. This time, they talked for eight minutes. DeJesus would later testify that he merely confirmed the warrant and told Moulder to get a lawyer. Moulder's fiancée, however, said DeJesus provided information from the police report. Either way, the damage was done. Desperate to avoid returning to prison, Moulder would swing violently into action within 24 hours.

Perhaps disturbed by the conversation, DeJesus tried to call his brother-in-law the next morning. Moulder wasn't home, so DeJesus waited. And though he would soon learn that Cutler had been shot, he continued to wait.

In fact, DeJesus didn't tell anyone about the conversation until he was summoned to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office months later. By then it was too late -- too late for Moulder, too late for DeJesus, and much too late for Robert Cutler.

Cutler had no reason to be suspicious when he received a frantic phone call January 4. He was still in bed at 11 a.m., and the last thing he cared about was the caller's fallen tree and damaged roof. Cutler had the flu.

It was unusual to find him in bed, for Cutler seemed to delight in work. Even those rare hours when he wasn't on the job were filled with activity -- hiking, rappelling, skiing, canoeing.

Just over six feet tall and muscular, Cutler had a no-nonsense shaved head and a swarthiness from working in the sun. Strangers might mistake him for a tough guy; friends never made that mistake twice. His best friend, Kevin Williams, remembers inviting him to go deer hunting. Cutler said the only thing he'd shoot a deer with was a camera.

Williams met Cutler at the University of Florida. The two were soon hanging out every Friday with Cutler's girlfriend, Susi, watching a week's worth of taped Letterman shows and enjoying a beer or two. Both were Rust Belt transplants -- Williams from western New York, Cutler from Cleveland. Both were raised by their mothers.

"We did things where people might say, 'Men don't do that,'" Williams says. "But we learned from our mothers. He could ride around in his pick-up truck and do things guys do, but he could also do laundry and clean the house." He was a great cook with a talent for grilling, Williams says. "He cooked things you wouldn't expect a big tough roofer to cook."

Indeed, Cutler's profession seemed an odd fit. He graduated from Florida with honors and a degree in finance, but he wasn't bent on a slow climb up the corporate ladder. His father, Bob, owned Western Roofing and Remodeling in Cleveland. "It wasn't that he wanted to learn how to run a roofing company," Williams says. "He wanted to know how to run a business. He knew he could learn from his dad."

In the 13 years that father and son worked together, the company prospered. "He was a good person and a hard worker," Cutler Sr. says. "If he wasn't working here, he was at home working on the house."

Business was brisk, though Cutler found time to slip away to St. Thomas, marrying Susi with the sun in their hair and their feet in the water. They bought a house in Fairview Park and frequently entertained extended family, but only on the weekends. The week was for work.

When Dad retired in December, he handed the company to his only child. But, at one month shy of 35, the son had no desire to run the business for the rest of his life. He confided his master plan to his mother, Linda Grekian: work for five years, sell the company, move to Florida, slow down. "He was able to put together a long-range plan and realize he didn't have to work so hard forever," Grekian says. Cutler told Williams he might buy a marina.

Indeed, work at Western Roofing was taxing, even beyond the long hours. "It was difficult to get workers willing to show up, let alone work, and that was hard for him, because he had such a strong work ethic," Grekian says. Williams remembers Cutler's frustration when an employee asked for a pay advance. Cutler asked if he would spend it on booze. No, the worker said. He'd already bought booze; he needed money for milk and diapers. "It drove Bob crazy," Williams says.

Then there was the neighborhood. Western Roofing sits at West 110th and Franklin, on the edge of a neighborhood dominated by sagging mini-marts and empty warehouses. No matter how neat the Cutlers kept the office's periwinkle paint and clipped hedges, drug abuse and desperation crouched just around the corner. Down the street, the Kirby Company headquarters stationed an off-duty policeman at the front door. Family businesses couldn't afford that luxury. Cutler Sr. was robbed early one morning by a couple of toughs. His son would experience a robbery far more brutal.

On April 1, 1999, he was closing up shop when a man rapped on the door. Was the company hiring? he asked. Cutler said no and tried to shut the door. The man pulled a pistol and forced his way in.

Cutler was pistol-whipped and ordered to the ground. The man demanded to know where the safe was. There wasn't a safe, but Cutler offered his wallet and told the intruder there was money in a desk upstairs. The man tied him with duct tape and left with $4,000, Cutler's driver's license, and a threat to kill his family if he called police.

Cutler called anyway, but only for insurance purposes. At the time, the danger in identifying his assailant seemed purely academic. With all the doped-up desperados in the neighborhood, the chance of finding his robber seemed remote.

But months later, Brian Justice, an on-and-off Western employee, told Cutler that the robber was his ex-roommate, Timothy Moulder. Justice provided Moulder's address, as well as the address of his girlfriend's apartment on Wetzel Avenue.

Deciding what to do with the information wasn't easy. While visiting his friends in Florida, Cutler asked Williams's wife, Teri, a prosecutor, if he would imperil his family by reporting Moulder. Teri Williams said no, not in her experience. Still, Cutler worried. "Bob knew how close he had come to being killed," Williams says. "He never told me the whole story, but I always pictured that he had a gun cocked to his head. There was something about it that really scared him."

Grekian urged him to keep silent. "I told him it was too dangerous."

Cutler didn't want to worry his mother, but he and his father felt obligated to put away a dangerous man. So they quietly contacted police, providing Moulder's name and the two addresses to Detective Thomas Booth, Cutler Sr. says. (Booth denies receiving the Wetzel Avenue address.) The detectives pulled a mug shot from a prior arrest, mixed it with other photos, and asked Cutler to pick his assailant. The glowering, goateed Moulder had a face Cutler couldn't forget. "He knew immediately who it was," his father says.

In March 2000, Moulder was indicted for aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and felonious assault. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and the Cutlers assumed he would soon be off the streets.

Then spring turned to summer. Summer became fall. Thanksgiving gave way to Christmas. When Cutler's phone rang the morning of January 4, it had been almost two years since the robbery and nearly a year since the warrant was issued.

Cutler talked to the caller for eight minutes before he consented to take the roofing job. He had the flu and the weather was bad, but the caller, who identified himself as "Tim DeJesus," was desperate.

When Susi Cutler called her husband at 12:41 p.m., he said he was heading to Bay Village because a caller was "wigging out." A tree had fallen through his roof, and Cutler hoped to remedy the problem with a temporary tarp. It would be a quick job, he said.

Cutler Sr. called his son around 2:30, but landed in voice mail. "Give me a call when you get a chance," he told the machine. "Just thought I'd see how things are going. I'll talk to you later." He never would.

In the 10 months since Cutler identified Moulder, Cleveland Police made only cursory efforts to arrest their suspect. Booth stopped by Moulder's house and checked with the post office, but Moulder had moved. So Booth sent a letter to the old address, commanding Moulder to turn himself in. Moulder never got it.

It's unlikely Cutler considered any of this as he drove to Bay Village. He didn't know that Moulder had been featured on a recent Crime Stoppers flier. Nor did he know that Moulder was still enjoying his freedom -- and was prepared to do anything to keep it.

In Bay Village, no strange vehicle sits for more than five minutes without drawing neighborly concern. So when a Lake Road resident arrived home around 3 p.m. that afternoon to find a Western Roofing truck blocking her driveway, she did what any normal Bay Villager would do: She called police. An officer arrived in six minutes.

The patrolman surveyed the front yard and driveway, but found no one. He then looked around the back of the house, where he discovered a body in the snow, lifeless. Assuming the man had fallen from the roof, the policeman called for an ambulance. It was fair speculation: The man's head was bloody, as if he had taken a hard fall. Paramedics confirmed he was dead.

But the patrolman's thesis quickly unraveled. The home's owners hadn't called a roofer, nor could they imagine why a man named Cutler was dead in their yard.

Police learned the truth from the county coroner the next day. Cutler hadn't fallen. He had been hit twice in the head, then shot three times at close range. Bay Village Detective Lieutenant Mark Spaetzel immediately ordered the yard reexamined, but the snowy scene revealed no footprints. The only clue was a message slip with the name "Tim DeJesus" and the Lake Road address found in Cutler's hand.

There was no simple explanation for who "Tim DeJesus" was or why he may have wanted Robert Cutler dead. Cutler's family seemed loving, his marriage happy. He had no connection to the Lake Road home. The name "DeJesus" meant nothing to anyone.

"It was a mystery," Spaetzel says. "In a situation like this, the only thing you can do is rule people out."

Though a 15-year department veteran, Spaetzel had little experience with murder cases. Violence is rare in Bay Village, and perhaps because of that, the exceptions have been large: the infamous Sam Shepherd case in 1954 and the murder of 10-year-old Amy Mihaljevic, who disappeared in 1989, only to be found dead five months later. Spaetzel worked the Mihaljevic case, which the FBI and Bay Village Police were unable to solve. His only other homicide experience came when Cleveland Police chased a suspect to Bay Village and accidentally killed him.

This case was different. Since the only real clue was Cutler himself, other clues would have to come from his life. Cutler's family was questioned. Business rivals were identified. And, along with so many other would-be suspects, Spaetzel interviewed 32-year-old Timothy Moulder.

He wasn't hard to find, Spaetzel says. Moulder had bought a car and registered it to the Wetzel Avenue apartment he shared with his fiancée. After learning of the robbery and the outstanding warrant, Spaetzel gave the address to the Fugitive Task Force. On January 12, Moulder was arrested and brought to Bay Village.

Spaetzel was aware of Moulder's rap sheet: a conviction for receiving stolen property in 1988; another for petty theft that same year. In 1989, Moulder was sentenced to prison for aggravated burglary and grand theft. Two months after his release, he was in court for robbing a man and carrying a knife. He wouldn't be paroled for that offense until April 1998, a year before the Western Roofing robbery.

Spaetzel read Moulder his rights and asked him a few questions. Did he know Cutler? Had he heard of the murder? Where was he on January 4? Moulder had ready answers. He was home sick with his fiancée, Katharine Senkar. He hadn't even heard of Cutler's death.

Spaetzel was suspicious, but had no evidence. Based on Moulder's record and the new robbery charges, Spaetzel assumed bail would be high. "We thought he'd be sitting in jail for a while, and that would give us time to check out his alibi."

The next day, Senkar visited Moulder in jail. The 20-year-old woman had been with Moulder for more than two years. The couple told her family and friends that Moulder was a former Marine, not an ex-convict.

"I was embarrassed," Moulder says. "I've been in jail with guys who say, 'I've done 15 years' or, 'I've done this or that,' like they're proud of it. To me, those guys are idiots."

Only to Senkar did Moulder acknowledge his troubled past. His parents divorced when he was three; he never knew his father, he says. "I wouldn't say I was happy, but I didn't have a bad childhood. My mom worked her butt off, and that was maybe the worst part of it, that I didn't ever see my mom."

A self-described loner, Moulder adjusted poorly to a move from California to Willoughby Hills while in fourth grade. At Eastlake Junior High, Moulder began cutting school to escape taunting classmates. He often went fishing. When his mom hassled him about it, he ran away from home, so he was sent to a school for truant kids, where he met a more accepting crowd. Most, like him, eventually landed in bigger trouble. "Every one of them has been in prison with me," he says.

In 1988, 19-year-old Moulder and a 16-year-old girlfriend completed a marriage application, but never wed. Instead, he went to prison. The woman gave birth to a son a year later, and although Moulder's name is on the birth certificate, the boy isn't his, he says.

It wasn't until Senkar gave birth to their daughter in March 2000, that he felt like a father. He found work at Hodell-Natco, a screw and washer manufacturer, and he and Senkar were saving for a house. "With her, I wasn't a father in name only," he says. "I came home from work every day at 5:30, and that was my life -- my girl."

That changed January 3, when Senkar's co-workers at the State Road BP discovered Moulder's face on a Crime Stoppers flier. When Senkar confronted him, he first denied being involved in the robbery, then told her that he drove the car while his former roommate did the deed. Moulder now says he was talking about a different incident, but Senkar would later testify to the confession in court. She said Moulder cried at the thought of going back to prison, then called his sister's husband, Sergeant DeJesus.

After he was arrested on the robbery charge January 12, Moulder told his fiancée he was worried. His new story: He had hired two men to scare Cutler and keep him from testifying. He promised to pay them $500. Then he saw on the news that Cutler was dead. The situation had gotten out of hand, he claimed; the men shot Cutler instead of scaring him. Now Moulder wanted Senkar's help. He needed an alibi for January 4.

Five days later, he raised bail and was released. There was nothing Spaetzel could do. Senkar swore that Moulder was home the entire day in question.

In early February, Spaetzel's digging finally provided real evidence. Phone records from Western Roofing supplied the number of the pay phone used to lure Cutler to Bay Village.

At 10:00 and 10:02 a.m., calls from the pay phone had been placed to Western Roofing, but the first call transposed two digits and the second used the wrong area code. At 10:03, a call was placed to a number in Cleveland. At 10:08, Western Roofing was called again. This time, "Tim DeJesus" made his plea for a roofer.

The 10:03 call was one of the only mistakes the murderer made. It went to Senkar's Wetzel Avenue apartment. "It made light bulbs go off," Spaetzel says. "Here we had this guy with a motive for killing him, but no evidence, and then we suddenly had evidence."

Thanks to the security camera at a Columbia Road Speedway station that showed Moulder getting change earlier that morning, Spaetzel could place Moulder in Bay Village and on the phone to Cutler. On February 9, police arrested Moulder for murder. Senkar was arrested for obstructing justice.

When Moulder's home was searched, police found the coat he wore in the security camera video. It was bleached and washed -- the only coat in his closet that wasn't filthy, Spaetzel says.

To this day, Moulder swears he didn't rob -- or kill -- Cutler. He acknowledges his earlier convictions, but insists he is not a killer. "I have never, ever hurt anybody."

But Spaetzel says Moulder was hostile to the arresting officers. He accused the department of botching the Shepherd case and failing to find Mihaljevic's killer. Later, in jail, he told Spaetzel, "You've got nothing on me. Zero!" He also cried and vomited several times.

Moulder's comments increased Spaetzel's desire. "Your motivation is for the victim's family," he says. "But that did add a little spice to things. We definitely wanted to build a case that would be locked down all the way."

And after observing Moulder in jail, Spaetzel became convinced he was an "aggressive, unremorseful, violent killer." In the six months between Moulder's second arrest and trial, no family members came to visit him; nor did a single friend. He didn't seem to have any. In fact, he had made plenty of new enemies.

Prior to Moulder's trial, defense attorneys pushed for a plea bargain. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason refused to compromise. "This case was more important to me than anything we've had since I've taken this job," he says. "If we can't protect our witnesses, what kind of society do we have? To me, this was the ultimate sin."

Besides, he had Moulder firm in his crosshairs. At the July trial, Senkar testified against her former fiancé as part of a guilty plea to the obstruction charge. Prosecutors called 46 witnesses. Moulder's attorneys, William Drucker and John Ricotta, didn't call any, nor did Moulder take the stand.

On August 4, the jury found him guilty of aggravated murder. Moulder was aghast. "For somebody who didn't do it and who's been told by his attorneys from day one that he's going to go home, it was a huge shock," he says, speaking by phone from the county jail. "I was ready to go home."

Moulder says his lawyers told him the prosecution had blown the case and that they didn't need to call witnesses. Drucker declined comment, citing a possible appeal. Ricotta did not return repeated phone calls.

When the jury deadlocked on the death penalty, the maximum sentence Judge Ronald Suster could levy was life in prison without parole. At the pre-sentence hearing, Moulder cried and said he had grown up in a broken home. He said he had a daughter.

Suster was unmoved. "Many people in today's society find themselves in strained family situations, yet very few of these people commit such heinous acts of violence," he lectured. If the judge had his druthers, he would sentence Moulder to death, he said. The law, however, did not permit it. Instead, he gave Moulder life in prison without parole.

Grekian wept. She was angry at Moulder's talk of divorced parents, as if that somehow explained everything. "My son came from a broken home, if you want to call it that," she says. "His life wasn't perfect either. I was thinking, 'Jesus Christ, why doesn't everyone in the room raise their hands if they came from a dysfunctional family?'"

After Suster's statement, family members talked about Cutler. Grekian spoke of how her son surprised her with lilacs on Mother's Day, how he called just to see how she was, how he bought her impractical little gifts. "I will never know the joy of holding a grandchild," Grekian said. "My heart has been ripped from my chest."

A cousin read a letter from Susi Cutler. "My life ended January 4, 2001," she had written. "Unfortunately, I was not able to follow my husband to where he now resides."

There wasn't a dry eye in the courtroom. The court reporter sniffed. Even Moulder blinked back tears.

Sergeant Cristino DeJesus grew up on Cleveland's West Side, the son of a Puerto Rican immigrant and his Ohio-born wife. He graduated from Lincoln West High in 1985, attended classes at Cuyahoga Community College, and worked as a gas station attendant until the police accepted his application in 1988, the same year he married Tim Moulder's sister, Sherrie.

DeJesus's personnel file paints the picture of a competent, diligent officer. He earned high marks as a detective in the plainclothes Strike Force Unit and was promoted to sergeant in October 2000. Until the Moulder case, the portly, mustached officer never received departmental discipline. The only question about his service may be his residency. DeJesus claims his parents' Old Brooklyn home as his address, though he and his wife own a bigger house in Brunswick. Prosecutor Steve Dever, the county's chief trial counsel, raised the residency issue at Moulder's trial, but DeJesus insisted he lives with his parents. He did not return calls for comment.

DeJesus is now on unpaid leave, as he waits for his own trial on October 15. He is charged with dereliction of duty, unauthorized access to a computer, and obstructing justice. Like Moulder, he is being represented by Ricotta and Drucker, and will also face prosecutors Dever and Brendan Sheehan.

Mason believes Moulder could not have killed Cutler without the information from DeJesus. "An animal like that, I don't even know that he could remember it was Western Roofing where he robbed the money or anything about anyone there," he says.

DeJesus should have reported the conversation, Mason asserts. "I understand what the nature of family is, but he's a sworn officer."

Moulder and DeJesus talked 15 minutes the day before Cutler's murder and 21 minutes January 4. DeJesus does not deny discussing Moulder's panic over the robbery warrant. Yet the sergeant kept his silence for four weeks, while the Bay Village Police grilled suspects and family members. "DeJesus let the police tear our family apart," Cutler Sr. says. "That was hard. He just sat there with his mouth shut."

At Moulder's trial, DeJesus testified that he had done nothing wrong. Dever asked why he didn't contact Bay Village after learning of Cutler's murder. "Because I wasn't sure that Tim did it, and he was so adamant about not doing the robbery, and I figured I would let the Bay Village Police Department investigate it and let them do their investigation," DeJesus responded.

Why not tell his supervisors about Moulder's call the night before? Dever asked. "Because I didn't," DeJesus said. He had been busy with medical testing. "I thought I had cancer, and that's where my mindset was at."

The testimony inflamed Cutler's family, but they are equally angry at Detective Booth. The 22-year department veteran testified that he made a few attempts to find Moulder, stopping by his house and sending the letter Moulder never received.

Through Lieutenant Sharon MacKay, the department's public information officer, Booth says the Cutlers never gave him the Wetzel Avenue address, where Moulder had moved with his fiancée. Cutler Sr. insists he provided it.

The argument is pivotal. Without the address, it would have been more difficult to find Moulder in early 2000. Bay Village located him through vehicle records. But Moulder didn't purchase the car until autumn, months after Cleveland Police abandoned their search.

MacKay says the department has no problem with Booth's handling of the case. Praised in annual evaluations as one of the department's best detectives, Booth has not been reprimanded or disciplined for the Cutler case, according to his personnel file. "The primary duty of an investigator is to investigate a crime, identify the suspect, and bring a case to the grand jury," MacKay says. "Detective Booth did that."

Besides, she notes, with 11,000 felony warrants open at any time in Cuyahoga County, it's hard to blame anyone for Moulder remaining at large.

Then again, Moulder wasn't a garden-variety felon. He used a gun in the robbery, pistol-whipped Cutler, and threatened to kill his family. This, presumably, would have pushed him near the top of the wanted list. Yet police apparently made no effort to track down friends, relatives, associates. And with Moulder's record, there was ample documentation to mine for leads.

Even Moulder thinks the effort to find him was laughable. He was working full-time. He bought a new car. He was doing nothing to hide. "They couldn't have looked too hard," he says.

All of which leaves Cutler's parents livid. Knowing their son's death could have been prevented is "like a sharp stick in the eye," his father says. "You sit here knowing that, if anyone had done their job, this wouldn't have happened."


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