As it stands, the triple homicide trial of a Williamsburg woman, who is charged with killing her husband and two children, is still scheduled for April 16, but it’s possible, if not likely, that the trial will be delayed due to a number of factors. The biggest question is how long the delay may be.
So far there have been no plea negotiations in the capital murder case against 41-year-old Courtney Taylor, but prosecutors are expected to meet with the victim’s family in the coming weeks to present them with all available options.
These were the two most significant developments addressed during a pre-trial conference Thursday morning in the case Taylor, who is charged with three counts of capital murder in the Jan. 13 shooting deaths of Larry Taylor, 56, Jesse Taylor, 18, and Jolee Taylor, 13. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in her case.
During Thursday’s hearing, public advocate Teresa Whitaker asked Special Judge Jeffrey Burdette to delay the trial in part because a mitigation expert hired by the defense in August, had to close her business due to health reasons after working a couple of months on the case.
“She is off the case. She cannot proceed,” Whitaker said adding that she can’t find another mitigation expert willing to take the case because of the short time frame before the trial is scheduled to begin.
Whitaker also noted that she has contacted the investigating officer, Kentucky State Police Detective Billy Correll, about reviewing the evidence in the case, but Correll told her that 90 percent of it is at the state police crime lab being tested.
“They are scrambling to get it done,” Whitaker noted.
Another factor is that Taylor’s former attorney, Roger Gibbs, filed a notice to withdraw as her legal counsel on Sept. 18 and has retired from the Department of Public Advocacy.
Whitaker said that between August and Nov. 6, she had to concentrate on another pending capital murder trial and was unable to do anything on her other cases.
Last month, Burdette indicated that he might be willing to postpone the trial for a month or two, but Whitaker asked Thursday morning that it be delayed until November in order to give her time to prepare for trial.
Commonwealth Attorney Allen Trimble objected to the delay noting it places a tremendous hardship on the victim’s family, the defendant’s family, and even the victim herself having to live in limbo until the trial.
“From a prosecutor’s standpoint, all a delay does is extend the pain and hurt without an end to it. Everyone, who is involved in a case like this, needs some conclusion to it. The longer it takes, the more pain and suffering they have to go through,” Trimble said.
“Every time there is a continuance and a delay there are additional issues for the family and additional time they have to deal with the pain of what happened.”
Burdette noted that he was disappointed he had just gotten Whitaker’s latest motion for a continuance that morning.
He noted that last month’s hearing was a bit “contentious” over Whitaker’s prior motion to delay the trial on the grounds she had just entered the case.
Another factor affecting the possible delay in the trial is that Whitaker may retire from the public advocate’s office at the end of June if the governor’s proposed pension reform bill passes.
Whitaker said she hasn’t filed any retirement paperwork yet. One of the attorneys for the Department of Public Advocacy is researching to see if she can get some type of exemption that would allow her to work on a contract basis for the department until this case is resolved.
Normally, someone is required to wait 90 days after retiring from the state before they can begin to do contract work.
“I want to be able to stay in this case,” Whitaker added.
Burdette noted that he would be willing to enter some type of order for Whitaker to remain on the case after she retires, if it would be helpful.
Another factor affecting a trial delay is that Trimble isn’t seeking re-election and his term in office expires at the end of 2018.
“This case I expect to try that before my term is up,” Trimble noted.
Burdette noted that the two possible retirements “boxes us in” in terms of trying to find an approximate trial window to try the case.
“I hate to put it up to November,” he added.
Officials expect the trial to last between two and three weeks. Jury selection alone is expected to take one week.
Burdette added that lab test results not being back yet are another factor he has to consider in deciding whether to grant the delay.
Trimble said that his office is in contact with the state police crime lab on a weekly basis and all the test results are slated to be done in February, two months before the current trial date.
Trimble said he doesn’t think there will be any significant findings in the lab results that might prompt a trial delay.
“In a death penalty case, every piece of evidence and every blood sample we want tested. If you get a death verdict, it is appealed to no end,” he added.
Burdette noted that it is his understanding there haven’t been any plea negotiations yet, which Trimble confirmed.
“Because of the nature of this case, I don’t anticipate offering any type of plea,” Trimble said.
Trimble noted that Taylor gave police a 1.5-hour statement, and that she wrote a series of notes about why she did what she did.
She would write a note, tear it up, and then start writing another one, Trimble said.
“I feel like if there is ever a death penalty case, this is one,” he said. “It is the strongest death penalty case I have ever been involved, and this is my sixth one. The evidence in this case is overwhelming.”
Trimble told Burdette that he would talk to the victim’s family in the short term about the options for a possible plea deal, including the sentencing options. Besides the death penalty, the only options available in a capital murder case are life without the possibility of parole, or life without the possibility of parole for 25 years.
Typically, when someone receives a sentence of life in prison, they are eligible for parole after serving 20 years in prison.
“In my 30 years as commonwealth’s attorney. It is the worst case I have had to deal with,” Trimble added. “As a prosecutor, it is very difficult to even talk with the victim’s family because of what has happened and what they are dealing with.”
Burdette noted that the victim’s family might be able to get some closure with some type of life sentence knowing that they didn’t have to go through years of lengthy appeals, which would accompany a death sentence.
Trimble said that any plea offer he makes would have to have the approval of the family.
Burdette didn’t rule on the motion for a continuance Thursday, and left the trial date set for April 16. He scheduled what is now a final pre-trial conference for Feb. 28 at 10 a.m. and is expected to address the issue of a continuance then.
Burdette gave Trimble until Jan. 15 to file a written response to Whitaker’s motion for a continuance.
Taylor is 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. Taylor was in the hospital for about two weeks before being released and taken to the Whitley County Detention Center.
She was later transferred to the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women at Pee Wee Valley, which is a women’s prison with a hospital unit.
Taylor was transferred back to the Whitley County Detention Center on Sept. 29 where she remains incarcerated in lieu of a $1 million bond.