A Williamsburg woman, who is facing a possible death sentence for killing her husband and two children nearly two years ago, will likely stand trial in late summer or fall, the special judge in the case said during a court hearing Thursday morning.
Courtney Taylor, 43, is charged with three counts of capital murder in the Jan. 13, 2017, shooting deaths of her husband, Larry Taylor, 56, and her two daughters, Jesse Taylor, 18, and Jolee Taylor, 13. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in her case.
The case now has several new lawyers.
Special Judge Jeffrey Burdette started Thursday’s hearing by allowing public defender’s Ron Findell and George Sornberger to withdraw as attorneys for Taylor.
Findell retired at the end of December. No reason was given for Sornberger’s withdrawl from the case.
Joanne Lynch and Audrey Woosnam are replacing them as additional counsels of record for Taylor. Both are assistant public advocates with the capital trial branch of the Department of Public Advocacy. Assistant public advocate Teresa Whitaker remains in the case.
In addition there is a new prosecutor in the case. Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble, who represents Whitley and McCreary counties, is leaving office at the end of the year. Jackie Steele, who is commonwealth’s attorney for Knox and Laurel counties, has been named special prosecutor in the case.
Ronald Bowling, who is succeeding Trimble as commonwealth’s attorney for Whitley and McCreary counties, said he recused himself as prosecutor in the case because of a personal relationship with the victims’ family.
Bowling added that he consulted with state officials in Frankfort, who concurred with his decision to recuse himself.
Taylor was recently evaluated for her competency to stand trial at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center (KCPC), and Burdette noted that the treating doctor, psychiatrist Amy Trivette, has now submitted her report concerning Taylor’s competency to stand trial.
Lynch noted that a competency hearing is required once the issue of competency has been raised.
Burdette tentatively scheduled a Feb. 28 competency hearing in the case provided the treating doctor can be present to testify that day.
Steele said that he would be fine with having the treating doctor testify by telephone, but Lynch objected to that saying the defense wanted the doctor to testify in person.
Burdette said that during the Feb. 28 hearing, he would likely schedule a new trial date in the case for later in 2019.
Taylor was originally scheduled to stand trial on April 16, 2018, but the trial was delayed due laboratory testing of evidence being incomplete, and because defense attorneys hadn’t been able to secure a new mitigation expert after the previous expert closed down their practice in late 2017.
A second trial date was set for Nov. 5, 2018, but was delayed on Oct. 25 after Burdette declined to grant a defense motion that he recuse or disqualify himself from serving as judge in the case because of circumstances that occurred after court following an Oct. 17 hearing in the case.
Although Burdette denied the motion to recuse, he postponed the trial and converted the motion so the Kentucky Supreme Court could decide whether he should recuse himself.
In an order signed on Nov. 19, Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton issued an order denying Taylor’s motion that Burdette be disqualified from presiding over the case.
“Upon review, it is ORDERED that Defendant has failed to demonstrate any disqualifying circumstance that would require the appointment of a special judge,” Minton wrote in the order.
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 taken to the University of Kentucky Medical Center on Jan. 14, 2017, where she underwent two surgeries to repair the internal damage caused by the shooting, and was discharged from the hospital on Jan. 25, 2017.
On Jan. 16, Kentucky State Police Detectives Billy Correll and Jesse Armstrong took a 90-minute statement from Taylor.
Burdette indicated Thursday that on Feb. 28, he would likely schedule a hearing concerning a motion that defense attorneys have filed to have that statement to police suppressed.
Lynch noted that defense attorneys would like another 90-120 days in order to supplement their motion to suppress.
She said that the hearing would likely include expert testimony about the interaction of drugs in Taylor’s system at the time she talked to police in addition to the effects of sedatives that she was on at the time.
Steele objected to that much of a delay noting that the victim’s family needs closure.
Burdette gave defense attorneys 60 days to supplement their motion to suppress.
Correll testified during a Feb. 1, 2017, preliminary hearing that during the hospital interview, Taylor indicated that she killed her husband and two daughters.
Correll said that when he spoke with Courtney Taylor she didn’t go into great detail about why she shot the victims.
Correll said that her reasoning for shooting Larry Taylor was because she had received a $264,000 cash settlement the prior year that was deposited into a bank account.
When she went to check the balance, the money was all gone except for a small amount left in the bank account.
Correll testified that after the shooting, police recovered about six pages of handwritten notes that had been discarded in a kitchen garbage can, and a spiral notebook on the couch where Courtney Taylor had been sitting that had some information about why she killed her daughters.
Correll testified that Courtney Taylor indicated she grew up feeling unloved and without a mother in her life, and she didn’t want her daughters to have that same feeling.
Armstrong, who investigated the officer-involved shooting portion of the case, also testified during the Feb, 1, 2017, preliminary hearing that he took a second statement from Taylor at the Whitley County Detention Center on Jan. 26, 2017, which is the day after she was released from the hospital.
So far defense lawyers haven’t asked for this second statement to police to be excluded as evidence in the case.