A special judge ruled Thursday morning that a Williamsburg woman, who is facing a possible death sentence for killing her husband and two children more than two years ago, is competent to stand trial and he has set a 2020 trial date in her case.
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.
Special Judge Jeffery Burdette conducted a competency hearing behind closed doors Thursday for Courtney Taylor, which apparently lasted a little over half an hour.
Dr. Amy Trivette, a psychiatrist at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center (KCPC), was the only witness, who testified during the hearing, said Special Prosecutor Jackie Steele.
After hearing Trivette’s testimony, Burdette found that Taylor had the capacity to appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her, and has the ability to participate rationally in her own defense. Therefore, he ruled that she was competent to stand trial, Burdette wrote on the court docket from Thursday’s hearing.
KCPC is a state run psychiatric hospital, which is located in LaGrange prison. Those incarcerated in county jails or state prisons are often sent there for psychiatric treatment or evaluations to determine competency to stand trial.
Bystanders were ordered out of a small courtroom on the third floor of the Whitley County Judicial Center about 11 a.m. Thursday so the competency hearing could take place.
Steele said that the only thing discussed in closed chambers was the competency issue. This was due to confidentiality issues related to medical records and especially mental health records.
“He (the judge) choose to do that in a closed courtroom. This was the only thing discussed,” Steele noted.
About 11:38 a.m., a court bailiff informed two members of the media and Larry Taylor’s family members that the remainder of Taylor’s hearing would be held in open court in the large courtroom on the third floor of the judicial center.
When the hearing resumed in open session two minutes later, Burdette brought up a motion by Steele for copies of Taylor’s medical records prior to the shooting.
At this point, Steele asked if lawyers for both sides could approach the bench, which Burdette permitted. Burdette then pressed a button to play white noise over the courtroom’s speaker system so the public couldn’t hear what was being said at the bench.
The bench conference lasted for a few minutes before the lawyers for each side returned to their respective tables.
Burdette said that federal law normally prohibits the disclosure of certain medical records, but he ruled that prosecutors could have access to Taylor’s medical records for the six months prior to the shooting.
Burdette scheduled a new trial date in the case for March 2, 2020. The trial is expected to last approximately one month.
Steele noted that the first week of the trial would probably involve jury selection.
Burdette noted that new attorneys have entered the case recently on both sides and the complexity of the case as reasons for setting the trial date next year.
Steele took over as special prosecutor in the case earlier this year, after the retirement of former Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble.
Two of Taylor’s three court appointed attorneys withdrew from the case late last year, and have been replaced with Joanne Lynch and Audrey Woosnam, who are both assistant public advocates with the capital trial branch of the Department of Public Advocacy. Assistant public advocate Teresa Whitaker remains in the case.
Taylor was originally scheduled to stand trial on April 16, 2018, but the trial was delayed due to 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, 2018, 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, 2018, Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton denied Taylor’s motion that Burdette be disqualified from presiding over the case.
During Thursday’s hearing, Burdette also scheduled an April 30 hearing on a motion filed by defense attorneys to suppress a statement that Taylor gave to police while she was hospitalized following the shooting.
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 at the hospital.
Defense attorney Joanne Lynch said previously 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.
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.
Thursday’s hearing concluded about 11:50 a.m.