Courtney Taylor didn’t directly acknowledge Wednesday morning that she killed her husband and two teenage daughters in their southern Whitley County home on Jan. 13, 2017. However, she did plead guilty acknowledging that prosecutors likely had enough evidence to convict her.
For Special Prosecutor Jackie Steele said there was a more important factor than this when he agreed to a plea agreement with the accused killer.
“She will never walk free again. She will be confined for the remainder of her life” Steele said.
Jury selection was scheduled to start March 2 in Taylor’s capital murder trial where prosecutors would have been seeking the death penalty against Taylor, 44, who was charged with three counts of capital murder in the shooting deaths of her husband, Larry Taylor, 56, and her two daughters, Jesse Taylor, 18, and Jolee Taylor, 13.
Taylor was scheduled for a final pretrial conference Wednesday morning in Whitley Circuit Court, but instead entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors where she entered an Alford plea to all the murder charges in exchange for prosecutors recommending a sentence of life in prison without any opportunity for parole.
An Alford plea means that a defendant still maintains their innocence but acknowledges that prosecutors likely have enough evidence to convict them at trial.
Special Judge Jeffery Burdette asked Steele towards the start of the hearing why Taylor was entering an Alford plea to the charges.
Steele said when he examined the case, he determined that there were three factors, which lend credence to Courtney Taylor’s claim that can’t remember anything about the shooting.
“One is the drug use, which she said she participated in trying to commit suicide that day. Whether or not she did, I don’t know. The second thing is where she was shot twice in effectuating her arrest. Posttraumatic trauma syndrome is a possibility where there can be memory loss. Also, she had multiple surgeries and was under anesthesia for the two gunshot wounds for several days after the events, which can also cause some memory loss,” Steele explained.
“Taking those three factors, there was a possibility that she couldn’t remember anything. The fact that I resolved on is the fact that she will never walk out of prison. This will effectuate safety for the community and satisfy the commonwealth.”
Steele said that he spoke with the victim’s family multiple times about the plea and the Alford plea, and they were satisfied with the outcome.
He said the family understood that even if a jury gave Courtney Taylor the death penalty, in all probability she would die in prison of natural causes before being executed.
“The main thing they wanted was to make sure she could never walk out of prison also,” Steele said.
Steele said that the two sides had been engaged in plea negotiations for about three weeks trying to resolve various issues, and reached the plea agreement Tuesday.
Courtney Taylor appeared in court Wednesday with her two attorneys, court appointed public advocates Joanne Lynch and Audrey Woosnam, who specialize in capital punishment cases.
When asked by the judge how she pleaded to the charges, Lynch whispered to her, and Taylor responded “guilty under Alford.”
Burdette scheduled a formal sentencing hearing for April 8.
Taylor will undergo a presentence investigation by the department of probation and parole prior to that hearing, and Burdette noted the details of that report will play a role in whether he goes along with the plea recommendation at the sentencing hearing.
After court, Lynch said that Taylor hopes the plea agreement can bring some closure for people.
“I think the judge said it well. This has been a long journey. I think everyone, including Courtney, hopes that this gives everyone a sense of closure and allows people to have some peace. I think that may be the most important thing that comes out of court today. If that can happen, that is one of the best things that can come out of court,” Lynch said after court.
“The Alford plea allows an individual when they are charged with an offense to be able to acknowledge the weight of the government’s case, but at the same time to negotiate a settlement in good faith and that is what Courtney has done in this situation,” Lynch explained.
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.
Prosecutors are dismissing the two wanton endangerment charges, Steele said Wednesday.
“We are dismissing that as long as she doesn’t seek any civil remedies, like trying to sue the sheriff’s department,” Steele noted.
During trial, jurors would have been able to hear a nearly 90-minute statement that Courtney Taylor gave to police from her hospital bed days after the shooting that explains in part why she killed her husband and her two daughters.
Part of the reason she killed her husband was that she blamed him for going through most of her more than $250,000 worker’s compensation settlement in a few months although the money was in an account in her name only, according to a portion of her statement to police that was played in open court during a July hearing.