HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Maurice “Moe” Sill sat on a bench in the woods of his retirement community one summer day in 2019, enjoying nature.
When the 94-year-old retired college professor’s grandson called 911 and reported Sill had collapsed from a sudden medical episode, police and paramedics in Huntington, West Virginia, responded and found Sill dead.
His death was found to be from natural causes, and his five children, 16 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren mourned his death.
Then the video surfaced.
On July 26, more than two years and 2,200 miles across the country, Sill’s grandson walked into the Beverly Hills Police Department and confessed not only to killing his grandfather, but also to recording the homicide on his iPad and later sending the video to family members.
Seth Ellis Donald, 36, was extradited to Huntington on July 26. He is charged with first-degree murder.
Donald remained Monday in the Western Regional Jail and Correctional Facility, according to jail records.
The shocking details of the alleged crime were revealed Thursday during a preliminary hearing, in which defense attorneys for Donald argued there was no physical evidence tying their client to the crime, The Huntington Herald-Dispatch reported. The defense also argued that the damning video has not been authenticated.
Cabell County prosecutors said that video, and the recording of Donald’s confession, are evidence enough to proceed with a case. The judge agreed.
At Thursday’s hearing, Huntington police Sgt. Jason Davis testified that officers and paramedics went to the Woodlands Retirement Community near Huntington on June 6, 2019, on a call of an unattended death. Donald, who had placed the call, told first responders that he’d taken Sill for a walk when the elderly man collapsed, face-first, onto the ground.
Donald said he tried to revive his grandfather, or drag him back to the retirement community, to no avail, the Herald-Dispatch reported.
The story was believable, Davis testified.
“Based on the story Mr. Donald provided, and the injuries that were consistent with the injuries Mr. Donald explained, the medical examiner, with his medical history in mind and his age, decided not to respond, and they released the victim to continue with the funeral process,” Davis said, according to WSAZ in Huntington.
Injuries to Sill’s face were attributed to the fall and because of Sill’s medical history, the medical examiner ruled the death natural without going to the scene.
Sill, a retired Marshall University professor and amateur pilot, was buried eight days later.
Life for Sill’s loved ones went on for several months, until family member called the police in January 2020 and said Sill’s death might not be all that it seemed. Investigators assigned to the case were delayed in their probe, however, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Things were at a standstill until last month, when Donald told police in California what he’d done. He turned over his iPad, which contained a video of his grandfather’s brutal death.
The video was not shown at last week’s hearing, but Davis described the footage in detail. According to the detective, the video starts out pleasantly, with Sill and his grandson talking about life and a variety of mundane topics.
Then Donald tells Sill he’s decided the older man must die.
“Mr. Sill did not agree with that, told him it was in God’s hands,” Davis testified. “Mr. Donald told him it was in his hands.”
The video grows even more chilling at that point.
“Mr. Donald told him we were wasting resources on him and people like him who had no future in this world,” Davis said, according to WSAZ.
At that point, Donald’s iPad dropped to the ground.
“He tried to stand up, and when he tried to stand up the camera drops to the ground and is facing upwards,” the sergeant said. “You can hear a struggle ensue.”
Davis testified that Sill could be heard begging for his life.
“You hear the victim say multiple times, ‘Help, help, help. No, you’re killing me, stop.’ Things like that,” Davis said. “Mr. Donald is struggling, saying, ‘Let it come. Let it come. It’s OK, Grandpa; it’s time. I’m sorry.’”
On the video, the pair struggles on the ground, rolling toward the camera, the news station reported. Donald can be seen putting a rag over his grandfather’s face.
The struggle went on for nine minutes, WCHS in Charleston reported.
“There’s silence for another six minutes and seven seconds, I think, before Mr. Donald picks the camera up again, looks at it (and) turns it down before you see Mr. Sill laying on the ground,” Davis testified, according to the news station. “One hand is covering is face and his legs are wrapped around his body, and then he looks down at the camera and the camera goes off.”
The Herald-Dispatch reported that Davis said Donald had sent the video to family members and friends last year. The January 2020 call to Huntington police was made by a family member who received the video through Dropbox, the sergeant said.
When Davis questioned Donald following his arrest last month, Donald told the detective that he waited to confess after he completed a “presentation” on why he had killed his grandfather. WSAZ reported that the presentation consisted of the video of the homicide and a video in which Donald talked about his reasoning for the crime.
“He waited until that was complete before he turned himself in,” Davis testified.
Neither video was shown Thursday in court.
‘The world’s most interesting guy’
Sill’s obituary paints a portrait of a life built on purpose. The West Virginia native earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in 1945 before moving on to Penn State University, where he got a master’s in rural social economics and a doctorate in rural sociology.
“He was such an interesting person,” Ron Smith, a friend who works at Woodlands Retirement Community, told WSAZ. “The world’s most interesting guy, as the beer commercial once described, is kind of who he was.”
Sill served in the U.S. Navy and did agricultural missions in India for eight years. He served in the Peace Corps, where he was a training officer for the first Corps group in India.
He also served as the first Peace Corps director in Pakistan.
From 1964 to 1971, he worked in the U.S. Poverty Program. According to WSAZ, Sill and his family settled in Huntington, where he bought a farm and founded Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in nearby Wayne.
“He was so interested in Appalachia from a sociological standpoint,” Smith told the news station.
Sill retired from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Marshall University in 1990.
“He loved working with rural people,” his obituary read. “Moe was an adventurer, and he lived a very full life.”
His family wrote that Sill loved his roots in West Virginia and loved the outdoors, tending to the garden he grew with his wife.
“He was very friendly and enjoyed getting to know people,” the obituary read. “If you were with him, you were the most important person in the world.”
Sill and his late wife, Nadya Sill, who also lived a life of service to others, donated their Wayne County farm to the Russian Orthodox Church’s Holy Cross Monastery, where dozens of monks now live, WSAZ reported. Nadya Sill died in 2018.
The monks, who raise bees, have become known in the community as the Bee Monks.
According to a story on the monastery’s website, the monks inherited Moe and Nadya Sill’s home, their log cabin, some pole-barns, about 160 acres of forested land and Moe Sill’s beehives.
The monastery has become a peaceful, spiritual place for people to visit. According to the monks, Sill visited the monastery often during his final year of life, participating in the agricultural projects there.
“That is probably the legacy they’d like to be remembered for, how they were able to grow this small piece of property in West Virginia and turn it into a religious sanctuary,” Smith said.
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