Taylor is a violent felon and sex offender convicted for burglary, conspiracy to commit a robbery, stalking, and lewd and lascivious battery. Almost two and a half years ago he was tried in Flagler County for another count of molestation allegedly involving his then-11-year-old step-daughter. A jury deliberated just over an hour and convicted him.
Circuit Judge Dennis Craig sentenced him to life in prison without parole, counting his past against him even though the charge he was convicted on carried a maximum penalty of 15 years, and most of those convicted on such a charge never get the full prison penalty.
The entire case had rested on the 11-year-old girl’s claim that Taylor one night came into her bedroom and brushed his hand over her general upper chest area “for a couple of seconds,” over her clothes, a gesture his defense attorneys compared to any parent checking in on his children at night. There was no corroborating evidence, no physical evidence. One of the girl’s older sisters was sleeping in the same room, but her testimony was as vague as her younger sister’s about what she saw. She too claimed Taylor would touch her inappropriately, but no count was filed as a result of her claims.
To the defense, the two younger girls were making up stories because they hated Taylor, he was mean and allegedly violent toward their mother, and they wanted him out of the house.
It was a case made for reasonable doubt, and the prosecution knew it: it did not file charges for two years, and did so only after the oldest of the three daughters claimed Taylor had raped her in Alachua County sometime in 2012, when she was 12.
Defense lawyers for Taylor didn’t wait for Craig to finish sentencing him to life in April 2017. One of them walked over to the clerk and handed her a document indicating their intention to appeal. Immediately. They knew their client had not had the fairest trial. They knew that Craig should not have allowed the oldest girl to testify about her allegation that she was raped, an allegation that Taylor was not on trial for in Bunnell, but that the judge allowed as so-called “similar-fact evidence.” They had objected. Craig had overruled.
But the defense lawyers were right: the Fifth District Court of Appeal a year ago Wednesday ruled that the older girl’s testimony about the rape should not have been allowed, and that it prejudiced the jury against Taylor. The reason: “the dissimilarities between the charged offense and the collateral crime evidence are significant.”
In his order allowing the older girl’s testimony, Craig had acknowledged that it could be “highly prejudicial,” but said it was established by clear and convincing evidence.
In fact, the charge in Alachua County was dropped in Aug. 2017, four months after the charge played a key role in Taylor’s conviction in Flagler, though that fact does not enter into the appeals court’s decision.
The appeals court ordered a new trial. It will be Taylor’s third on the same charge: Craig declared the first a mistrial when the oldest of the three girls blurted out yet other details about Taylor that were inadmissible.
That trial began today with jury selection. It is expected to last the rest of the week. Taylor, who’s been incarcerated since 2015, is facing his fourth judge since his case began, Terence Perkins.
Last week Perkins, Assistant State Prosecutor Melissa Clark and Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally argued a few motions to establish the rules at trial. Clark filed three of them. One of them is to prevent a repeat of the first trial, when the defense called on Taylor’s family members to testify to his church-going. “This testimony is irrelevant, it is improper character evidence” and would be used to “mislead or confuse the jury,” Clark argued.
Clark also asked that the court forbid testimony from family members who claimed, again in the first trial, that Taylor had been abusive toward his ex-wife. And Clark didn’t want Nunnally or her witnesses to try to demolish the credibility of the state’s two main witnesses–the two younger girls, one of them the alleged victim–by making references to them stealing or lying.
Nunnally agreed to all three motions, making Perkins’s ruling an easy one. Still, the hearing stretched for over an hour as the two sides discussed other possible testimonies that could prejudice the case for either side, such as the time when the children’s grandfather discovered that Taylor was a sex offender, and wanted him gone. None of those inferences may be made at trial (though the grandfather himself has since died). “The whole family was aware of that,” Clark said of the grandfather’s investigation. “I’ve instructed them that we’re not getting into that.”
So the matter of Taylor’s status as a sex offender is off the table. “I don’t want it slipping out accidentally unless we’ve all agreed, the door is open,” Perkins, a stickler for strict parameters, told the two attorneys.
Similarly, however, the two younger witnesses will be instructed not to say anything about what they claim was Taylor’s abuse of their mother.
And this time, all references to the older girl’s claims of rape will be out of bounds.
“Is there any evidence you anticipate coming in involving” that girl, the judge asked the prosecutor.
“No,” Clark said emphatically.
“We remain 100% confident that your ruling will be the correct and just ruling,” Taylor’s mother, Priscilla, had written Craig a day before his sentencing in June 2017. at the beginning of June 2017. She had been among a dozen members of Taylor’s family at that hearing. He is one of 17 siblings.