Judge delays sentencing in caretaker murder case

Frances Moss-Hopkins

WINCHESTER — After hearing a full day of testimony from the prosecution and defense on Monday, Circuit Judge N. Randolph Bryant decided to wait until today to deliver the sentence for the Berryville woman who entered an Alford plea plea of guilty in May to killing a woman in her care.

Frances Charlene Moss-Hopkins, 57, pleaded to the June 2016 death of 85-year-old Lake Frederick resident Peg Sinclair. Moss-Hopkins entered the Alford plea as  way of  maintaining her innocence while acknowledging that the prosecution would have sufficient evidence to convict her. The first-degree murder charge against Moss-Hopkins, which carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, was amended to second-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years imprisonment.

Sentencing was not part of the plea agreement, so a hearing was set for Bryant to deliver a sentence. During Monday’s hearing, prosecutors Ross Spicer and Andrew Robbins presented evidence of what happened the night of June 17, 2016 up until Sinclair was found on June 21, 2016 through testimony from the victim’s family and the investigators in this case.

Lisa Gilkerson, Sinclair’s daughter, testified that she had come home that night and Moss-Hopkins, who had been caring for Sinclair for over a year, told her that Sinclair was sleeping. Gilkerson went to sleep and woke up around 3 a.m. June 18, 2016 and found a note Moss-Hopkins wrote about what Sinclair had been up to in the few hours Gilkerson was asleep.

“Lisa,” the note read, “Your mom had a very rough night.”

Moss-Hopkins went into detail in the note explaining that Sinclair had gotten sick and soiled herself, making a mess on her sheets that dripped in the foyer and on two rugs in the house. The note states that Sinclair had also cut her hand on an apple and had dripped blood in different parts of the house as well. Moss-Hopkins said she was taking everything to the cleaners because of the mess. The note included smiley faces, Gilkerson testified. Gilkerson said she sent Moss-Hopkins a text message to thank her for her help in caring for Sinclair, and when she went to check on her mother the next morning, she found that her mother was gone.

Investigators believe that Sinclair had thrown soiled sheets at Moss-Hopkins while in the laundry room, and Moss-Hopkins responded by going in the attached garage, retrieving a hammer and striking Sinclair in the head ten times. Moss-Hopkins severed Sinclair’s body in half to fit her in the back of Moss-Hopkins’s SUV, and then hid the body in a remote location in West Virginia where she tried to burn the hammer, a hacksaw and a pair of bolt cutters along with the severed hands of the victim.

Public Defender Tim Coyne presented evidence through clinical psychologist Sara Boyd that Moss-Hopkins had a bipolar disorder, a complex post-traumatic-stress disorder, and conversion disorder that stem from traumatic events in Moss-Hopkins’ life. Boyd said that participants in violence can also suffer from PTSD, not just victims of violent crimes.

“Ms. Sinclair’s death was probably the most traumatic experience of Ms. Moss-Hopkins’ life,” Boyd said at Monday’s hearing.

Bryant said that he would deliver his sentence 10:30 a.m. today at a hearing in Frederick County Circuit Court. Moss-Hopkins could be sentenced anywhere from five to 40 years imprisonment. Coyne asked for the minimum sentence, given Moss-Hopkins’ history of mental illness and that Boyd recommended psychological treatment to help Moss-Hopkins in the future. Spicer asked that the judge exceed the sentencing guidelines that recommend just over 20 years imprisonment at the maximum.