Tom Moss, a highly respected attorney who spent nine years over the course of three presidential terms as U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho, died Sunday at the age of 80 after an extended illness.
Moss had a storied career of service spanning five decades, spending a quarter century over two stints as Bingham County’s prosecuting attorney. After retiring as a county prosecutor in late 1999, he was appointed by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne the following January to fill the vacancy created when Republican Rep. Stan Williams, of Pingree, was appointed to replace the late Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs. Moss won a full two-year term in the House in 2000 but served only one, having been appointed as the state’s U.S. Attorney by President George W. Bush. He continued to serve in the role under President Barack Obama until June 2010.
In the latter part of Moss’ tenure as the state’s U.S. attorney he also served as the nation’s associate deputy attorney general for violent crime. He was appointed to that post by then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2007, during his sixth year as a U.S. attorney. In that role, he was responsible for overseeing anti-violence initiatives nationwide, along with his duties as a U.S. attorney.
Bart Davis, the state’s current U.S. attorney, knew Moss for decades as a lawyer, a legislator and as U.S. attorney. But Davis will remember Moss as much for his faith and his commitment to family as he will for his career accomplishments.
“He was first and foremost a person who loved his family,” Davis said. “They meant the world to him. His faith was also extremely central in his life.”
Davis related the story of Moss and his wife, Susan, coming to see him in December 2016 when Davis was under consideration for the state’s U.S. attorney position.
“He gave me great counsel and encouragement,” Davis said.
A 1999 Post Register article said Moss had prosecuted at least 20 murder cases, including those of Paul Ezra Rhoades and Richard Leavitt. Other prosecutors had told Moss that he may have prosecuted more murder cases than anyone in the state, he said.
“I’ve been unlucky in that I’ve had a lot to do, but I’ve learned a lot from it,” Moss said at the time. “It makes life interesting.”
As U.S. attorney, Moss prosecuted confessed child killer Joseph Duncan, who in May 2005 abducted and brutally assaulted 9-year-old Dylan Groene and his 8-year-old sister, Shasta, after taking them from their Coeur d’Alene-area home before killing the boy.
Rhoades, who was executed in 2011, was the first person to have been executed in the state in 17 years. Leavitt was executed in 2012.
Duncan was sentenced to death in 2008 but remains on federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind.
A father of seven, Moss said the Duncan case was seared forever in his memory.
“The Joe Duncan case will never go away,” Moss told the Post Register in 2012. “The most evil person I ever dealt with was Joe Duncan because he killed children. He was shopping the countryside for children. And the story was frightening for people who have kids because he was hunting for children.”
Despite the horrific nature of the crimes committed by some of the criminals he prosecuted, Moss never lost his compassion or his hope for humanity, Davis said.
State Sen. Steve Bair also knew Moss over the course of more than four decades, first as his family’s attorney then later as a legislator and finally as a neighbor, living across from him and Susan for a decade.
“I have nothing but honor and praise for the man,” Bair said.
Bair described Moss as “honest, almost to a fault,” and said he was the kind of neighbor who would jump in to help a neighbor in need.
“He raised a great family,” Bair said. “They are all active in the church and in the community. They’re great neighbors to have.”
Davis said Moss’ impact on eastern Idaho and the state cannot be overestimated.
“This was a great human being,” he said.