"In my own way, I put my life and my family's life on the line for always."
Moran, 40, is scheduled to appear before a three-judge Common Pleas Court panel today, seeking a reduction in the death sentence imposed by the jury that in 1982 found him guilty of the McCullough killing. Shortly after that verdict was reached, Moran was approached by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and the FBI and agreed to cooperate.
In exchange, he said, officials promised not to oppose his motion for a reduction in the death penalty. Eventually, Moran said, he hopes to win release from prison. For now, his primary concern is getting out from under the shadow of the electric chair.
"There are guys who did more than me who are already home," Moran said, pointing out that both Thomas DelGiorno and Nicholas Caramandi had been released from prison. DelGiorno and Caramandi, mobsters who also became informants, both confessed to taking part in several killings before pleading guilty to federal racketeering charges. With credit for the nearly three years each spent in protective custody while testifying at numerous trials, both men were behind bars about a year before being released and relocated under the federal Witness Protection Program.
While Moran's cooperation may not technically qualify as a reason for overturning his death sentence, it remains the underlying issue in the case and the focus of his argument.
In a five-page motion seeking to have the death sentence reduced to life in prison, Moran's attorney, Jack A. Meyerson, argued that there was insufficient evidence presented to the jury to warrant capital punishment. Meyerson also detailed Moran's "substantial cooperation" with law enforcement officials as a potential mitigating factor in the case. Attached to the motion were 11 letters from federal and state law enforcement agencies, for whom Moran has provided information.
Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Ribner, who presided over Moran's 1982 trial, along with Judges Albert F. Sabo and George J. Ivins, will hear the appeal.
Moran's cooperation began when he identified mobster Raymond "Long John" Martorano and Albert Daidone, vice president of Atlantic City Bartenders Union Local 54, as the two men who ordered McCullough killed. He then testified against Martorano and Daidone, who were convicted of first-degree murder in 1984. Both were sentenced to life in prison last month after a series of post- trial motions in the controversial case were finally denied by another three-judge Common Pleas Court panel.
Joseph Murray, the former head of the District Attorney's Homicide Unit and the man who prosecuted Moran, said last week that there was no guarantee that Moran's death sentence would be set aside.
Murray, however, said he was convinced that Moran testified truthfully against Martorano and Daidone. And, he asked, "Is it just, in the greater scheme of things, that the guys who set him in motion got life and he got (sentenced to death)? Probably not."
Moran, from his prison cell, said his cooperation extended far beyond the McCullough case. He said he provided information about drug dealing, extortion, labor racketeering, motorcycle gangs, pornography, arson-for-hire and other killings.
A longtime member of the South Jersey underworld, Moran described himself as an up-and-comer in the mob at the time Martorano and Daidone tapped him to kill McCullough. In exchange, he testified, he was promised a share in a lucrative methamphetamine-distribution network headed by Martorano. Moran described himself as a member of Martorano's "crew" and said he agreed to murder McCullough to advance in the organization.
McCullough was killed, he has said, because the union official was attempting to form a rival bartenders union in Atlantic City that would compete with Local 54. The local has long been identified as mob-controlled and remains the focus of a continuing federal probe, according to several law enforcement sources.
Moran, of Gloucester Township, and his father, also named Willard, were the operators of an adult bookstore business in South Jersey at the time of the killing. He also was a habitue of Camden's notorious Admiral Wilson Boulevard strip, an eight-lane highway lined with go-go bars and motels where, authorities say, drugs and prostitution have flourished.
After his conviction, but before it became public knowledge that he was cooperating with authorities, Moran persuaded his wife to cooperate with the FBI. She wore a body wire and secretly recorded several meetings with a mob associate who, Moran said, was providing him and his family with financial support while he was in prison.
Moran's wife and infant son were subsequently placed in the Witness Protection Program, given new identities and relocated. He and his wife have since divorced. He has seen his son, now 8, only once.
"I feel as though, for what I've done, I've been punished thoroughly," Moran said in the interview last week. "I've lost my family. I've lost my friends, gangsters or otherwise."
Moran said if he could, he would apologize to McCullough's widow, Audrey, who witnessed the shooting of her husband.
He said he was sorry for what he put her through.
While he acknowledges now that the shooting was "wrong," he said that at the time he viewed it as an underworld business proposition. And, he pointed out, "I never hurt her. She was there. She saw it all, and I never hurt her."
He said his cooperation "is my way of apologizing to her and to society. In reality, I know I can never correct what I did to her. . . . But if there's a scale of good and bad, I hope I've taken the bad that I did and evened it out with the good."
Moran said he hoped one day to win release from prison. The first step, he said, would be getting the death sentence set aside.
If he is released, Moran said, he knows that his cooperation has made him a target for underworld retribution.
"Once I get out this door, the real danger starts," he said.