EL DORADO -- An El Dorado man who was accused of killing a woman and her unborn baby in early 2020 was sentenced Thursday to 95 years in prison, as part of a plea deal.
Through his attorneys, Jay R. Moody, 31, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and a firearms penalty enhancement, also a felony offense.
Moody was originally charged with two counts of capital murder in the January 2020 shooting deaths of 23-year-old Marchella D. Modica Champion and her unborn child, a son who was to be named Jayceon.
A Union County school bus driver who was running her route on the morning of Jan. 28, 2020, reported seeing what appeared to be "a body in a ditch" in an area just off Wesson Road between the Wesson and Three Creeks communities.
The Union County sheriff's office was called to the scene shortly after 7 a.m. and upon arrival, deputies found Modica Champion lying face down.
She had two gunshot wounds and was nine months pregnant at the time.
Investigators said the shooting took place in a wooded area behind an abandoned home, about 250 yards away from the ditch where Modica Champion's body was found.
"One of the most important people in our ability to solve her murder was Marchella herself," sheriff's office Capt. Jeff Stinson said at the time.
"Evidence suggests that at some point after she was shot, she stood up and walked out to where she was found before succumbing to her injuries," he continued. "The location where Marchella was shot was so isolated that if she had not been so determined to live, so determined to find help for her and her unborn child, it would have taken weeks, if not months, to locate her."
Moody was identified as a suspect through witness interviews and physical and digital evidence, all of which helped investigators reconstruct Moody and Modica Champion's movements on the evening of Jan. 27, 2020 -- the time during which investigators believe she was killed.
Moody was arrested more than two weeks later on Valentine's Day. He has since been held without bail in the Union County jail.
"If there was a motive, he never verbalized it," Stinson said Thursday.
Investigators said evidence indicated the possibility that Moody was the father of Modica Champion's unborn child but his paternity was not confirmed.
"They were acquaintances. They knew each other. He didn't establish the motive that the unborn child had anything to do with it, but everything pointed toward that," Stinson said.
Stinson also said aspects of the investigation into the fatal shooting remain open. He declined to comment further on the matter.
Moody appeared Thursday before Judge Hamilton Singleton in Union County Circuit Court, Division 1, where he was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and a penalty enhancement for the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.
Through his attorneys, Birc Morledge and Bobby Digby, both of Little Rock, Moody accepted a plea deal that amended the capital murder counts to two counts of first-degree murder.
In Arkansas, a conviction for first-degree murder carries a possible prison sentence of 10 to 40 years or life.
Moody could have faced the death penalty with the capital murder charges.
Jeff Rogers, chief prosecuting attorney for the 13th Judicial District, said he and Moody's attorneys spent most of the morning Thursday hammering out the plea deal, which was accepted by the court just before lunchtime.
Moody was sentenced to 40 years on each count of first-degree murder and an additional 15 years for the firearms penalty enhancement.
Rogers said the sentences are to be served consecutively and will begin immediately.
Moody will be credited for time served in the Union County jail. He has been in custody since Feb. 14, 2020.
"Parole eligibility is calculated at 70% of the sentence, so somewhere around 66 years," Rogers explained.
He said Modica Champion's family members were present during court proceedings Thursday and they approved the plea deal.
Her relatives did not make any public statements in court.
"I think it's a very good outcome, given the number of years to be served, the horrible nature of the crime and the livelihood of it, effectively, being a life sentence," Rogers said.
Stinson made similar statements, saying, "I think just like everybody else, Miss Champion is still gone so it tempers how you feel about it."
"I think justice was served. The prosecutor stayed in contact with the family," he added. "They were satisfied with the outcome and, therefore, so am I."