James Moore, New York’s longest-serving prisoner, dies

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James Moore, the longest serving prisoner in New York, died on April 30 at Coxsackie Correctional Facility south of Albany, his wife says. Moore was 90 years old. He pleaded guilty in 1963 to the brutal murder of Pamela Moss, a Penfield teenager.

After 60 years in custody, Moore was paroled in 2022 after nearly two dozen failed bids. Due to his medical condition—including hip fractures, kidney disease, and the partial amputation of both legs—and despite efforts of prison staff to arrange for his relocation, no nursing facility was found with a bed or services available for his care. As a consequence, Moore remained in the prison medical unit, where he died.

Moore’s wife of 35 years, Joyce Smith-Moore, of Auburn, told me that Moore suffered a mild stroke days before his death. His body, she said, has been cremated.

In 1963, Moore, then 28, was living in Webster with his first wife and their three children. He was working as a gardener in the neighborhood of the Moss family in Penfield when he saw 14-year-old Pamela Moss on her way to an after-school babysitting job. The horrific nature of the crime, the manhunt for the killer, and Moore’s arrest was major news throughout Rochester and the upstate area.

In confessing, Moore said he hadn’t planned the attack, but when he saw Pamela he approached her as she took a shortcut through the woods. He said he talked to her of the beauty of the woods, then grabbed her around the waist and suffocated her by putting his arm over her mouth. After she was dead, he raped her and dumped her body in shallow water near a quarry.

While in Monroe County jail, Moore attempted suicide, but soon agreed to a plea: In exchange for the state not pursuing the death penalty, he would plead guilty to first-degree murder and receive a sentence of what was then called “natural life.”

During his decades of prison, Moore maintained a clean record with few behavioral violations. He completed psychological counseling, earned three college-level degrees, and became a teacher of Buddhist meditation. He publicly acknowledged responsibility for his crime and expressed remorse. 

In 2007, while researching his case for an article, I visited Moore at Cayuga Correctional Facility south of Auburn, where he was then being held. He was 73, and still able to walk.

I asked him why he hadn’t ever contacted the Moss family to express remorse directly to them. He’d considered doing so, he told me, but said the family has “suffered enough” and thought that contacting them might be “rubbing salt in the wounds.”

“I do have a lot of remorse, though,” he told me. “I’m extremely sorry for the family, and that it’s caused them so much pain over the years.”

Moore also spoke about his achievements in prison—particularly his work as a mentor to younger inmates—and about a sense of calm he’d found through Buddhism.

“I can’t change what I did that day,” he said, referring to Pamela Moss’s brutal murder, “but I sure as hell can change myself. I was ashamed of who I was when I came in here—that’s why I tried to kill myself—but I’m not ashamed of who I’ve become.”

Peter Lovenheim is Washington correspondent for the Rochester Beacon. He is author of In the Neighborhood and other works. His newest book, Gift Shop of Gratitude, will be published this November. He can be reached at [email protected].

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3 thoughts on “James Moore, New York’s longest-serving prisoner, dies

  1. Thank you for this story. Many people have been able to turn their lives around in prison or in spite of prison. I hope people are listening.

    Joy Bergfalk
    Coffee Connection, Executive Director

  2. Thank you for this story. A heinous crime, admitted to, as well as his self-loathing as a young man. Importantly, I am grateful to know how life changed for him, his enviable behavior over so many years in a violent place, and his generous service to other inmates, who will remember him for his caring about them. There have been, and are, others human beings like him making meaningful life out of “doing time”.

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