The trial of a Williamsburg woman, who allegedly killed her husband and two children last year, is proceeding to start as scheduled early next month following a pretrial conference in the case Wednesday morning.
Courtney Taylor, 42, is charged with three counts of capital murder in the Jan. 13, 2017, shooting deaths of Larry Taylor, 56, Jesse Taylor, 18, and Jolee Taylor, 13. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in her case.
During Wednesday’s hearing, there was no mention of a proposed plea deal in the case, which would have had Taylor pleading guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Taylor was returned to the Whitley County Detention Center late Tuesday evening after undergoing a competency evaluation at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center (KCPC).
KCPC is located at Lagrange prison, which contains a hospital unit. Many court-ordered competency evaluations of defendants take place at this state-run facility.
In early September, Special Judge Jeffery Burdette ordered Taylor to undergo a competency exam as a precautionary procedure in the high profile case.
Officials haven’t received a report from prison doctors concerning Taylor’s competency. Burdette scheduled an Oct. 29 pretrial conference in the case to address any motions or matters still pending before the start of the trial. A competency hearing could be conducted on that date if one is needed.
During Wednesday’s hearing, public advocate Teresa Whitaker, who is one of the attorneys representing Taylor, noted that Taylor had “not had any medications since she was released from KCPC.”
Whitaker said that when Taylor was sent to the facility, she was taken off the medication she had been taking for a few days, and then doctors started her on new medication.
Burdette noted that this needed to be remedied and he met with Whitley County Jailer Brian Lawson briefly after Wednesday’s hearing. Lawson then met with attorneys from both sides to explain what was happening.
Lawson said after court that Taylor had only returned to the Whitley County Detention Center from KCPC late Tuesday evening. He said her medications would be resumed after meeting with the jail’s doctor, and he presumed the medications would be the same as what KCPC doctors had prescribed.
Officials didn’t indicate what type of medication that Taylor has been taking.
During the hearing, Burdette laid out the timetable for the trial.
Whitley Circuit Court Clerk Gary Barton said that 261 people have been selected as prospective jurors in the case, which is the largest jury panel he has ever had.
General voir dire or questioning of jurors will take place on Oct. 30 – 31.
Burdette said half the jury panel would be brought for general voir dire on Oct. 30, and the other half would be brought in the next day.
General voir dire usually involves the questioning of perspective jurors to see if they are related or know people affiliated with the case, such as police officers, attorneys involved in the case, relatives of the victims or the accused, witnesses, whether they have been victims of crimes, and so forth.
The questioning is also designed to find out if jurors have any conflicts, which might prevent them from fairly judging the case.
Burdette said that attorneys for both sides would be allowed to ask questions and follow-up on juror’s responses during those two days of proceedings.
After any jurors with potential biases or conflicts are removed, the remaining jurors will be scheduled to come in for individual voir dire or questioning over the next several days.
This often involves questioning perspective jurors about feelings on the death penalty, whether the perspective jurors feel they could hand down a death sentence, whether they would be willing to consider extenuating circumstances involving the case and so forth.
Burdette plans to schedule eight jurors for individual voir dire questioning per hour, although Whitaker she said she would prefer that four be scheduled per hour.
Burdette said the hope is to qualify a panel of 37 jurors, which would allow for the seating of three alternate jurors, but the trial could proceed with the seating of slightly fewer jurors.
Alternate jurors are usually selected in trials expected to last more than one or two days, and are put in place in the event a juror is unable to continue due to illness, a family emergency and so forth.
A circuit court jury is typically composed of 12 jurors in Kentucky. If three alternate jurors are seated, then all 15 jurors would consider evidence and testimony throughout the trial.
If none of the jurors has to be excused during the trial, then after closing arguments, the circuit clerk would draw out the numbers of three jurors, who would then be considered the alternate jurors in the case and wouldn’t deliberate on the outcome of it.
Opening statements in the case are scheduled to start on Nov. 5, and the trial is expected to conclude around Nov. 14.
With the exception of the week of jury selection, Burdette said that he planned to conduct the trial Monday – Thursday taking Friday off to deal with matters he has in other counties.
Burdette said that court would not be held on state holidays where the judicial center would be closed.
He added that he only plans to have court during the first half of the day on Election Day, in order to give jurors, court officials and so forth time to go vote.
Courtney Taylor is also charged in a separate indictment with two counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for pointing a 9mm handgun at Whitley County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonas Saunders and Sgt. James Fox, who responded to her residence to investigate the shooting.
Saunders shot her twice with his service weapon when she allegedly pointed a gun at him. Courtney Taylor was in the hospital for about two weeks before being released and taken to the Whitley County Detention Center, where she remains incarcerated in lieu of a $1 million cash bond.