A week after 17-year-old Alexis Murphy was last seen at the Liberty gas station in Lovingston and her DNA had been found in his camper, Randy Taylor finally admitted Murphy had been at his property on August 3, the evening she disappeared, and claimed she was with a black man with cornrows who’d been driving a maroon Chevrolet Caprice and who sold him some marijuana.
Dameon Malcolm Bradley testified Tuesday afternoon, May 6, in Nelson County Circuit Court, where Taylor is on trial for the murder and abduction with intent to defile of Murphy, whose body has never been found.
Bradley testified that he moved to Birmingham, Alabama, shortly after Murphy disappeared last summer, and he was surprised when he received a phone call from police after her disappearance because he didn’t know her well, although he was dating her cousin. “Me and Alexis never did anything together or rode in a car together,” he told the jury. He graduated in 2007—seven years before the missing senior would have graduated—and said he and Murphy were acquainted through Facebook.
Bradley said he spent the weekend Murphy disappeared in a motel in Madison Heights with his girlfriend, and the couple had no car that weekend. His mother picked him up Sunday morning, August 4, and he left a week later to move to Birmingham. He denied ever being in Taylor’s camper or selling him marijuana.
Although Bradley testified for the prosecution, court-appointed defense attorney Michael Hallahan had subpoenaed him as a hostile witness. Hallahan showed a picture of the now short-cropped witness with cornrows, and asked him about his hair. “I had them last August, and just cut them off two weeks ago,” said Bradley, who had also worked at the McDonald’s at the Liberty gas station, a spot Taylor was known to frequent.
Bradley said he knew no one with a maroon Chevy Caprice.
“Well, we blew that smoking gun out of the water,” said Murphy’s great aunt, Trina Murphy, after the day’s court session. “He’s not involved. Everybody—the media, the public—was waiting for Dameon Bradley. Now he can move on with his life.”
The trial began with more recordings of the interviews Taylor had with Nelson Sheriff’s Office investigator William Mays and the FBI’s John Pittman, continuing an August 7 conversation at Taylor’s residence off U.S. 29 about a mile north of Lovingston in which Mays told Taylor they knew he had been in Charlottesville that weekend. Taylor repeatedly had said he stayed home after spending Saturday, August 3, four-wheeling in Barboursville.
The car Murphy was driving, a white Nissan Maxima, had been found at the Carmike Theatre parking lot the day before the August 7 interview, and surveillance video showed the car pulling into the lot around 10pm Sunday night, August 4, although the car’s occupants weren’t visible.
‘We’re certain you went back to Charlottesville,” said Mays on the interview tape, with the sounds of U.S. 29 traffic in the background. “I don’t think we’re going to have a problem proving it.”
After multiple denials, Taylor said, “If you guys want to arrest me, fine. I did not go back to Charlottesville.” He then claimed that a friend, the same one he said he’d been with Saturday night to buy pot, came by his camper on Sunday with a plan to sell some pot in Earlysville. Taylor rode with him, he told investigators, and the friend dropped him off at Applebee’s, where he recalled having two Heinekens before calling a cab to take him back to Nelson County. He repeatedly refused to give investigators the friend’s name.
By Sunday, August 11, police had confirmed that the hair, a torn fingernail, and diamond stud found in Taylor’s camper matched Murphy’s DNA. Mays and Pittman returned to the camper that day, and conducted a third interview with an agitated Taylor, who complained that his camper was in disarray following an August 7 search.
The investigators told Taylor they knew much of what he’d told them wasn’t true, and tried to cajole him to tell them what happened. “Something bad happened here Saturday,” said Mays. “I think you’re afraid to tell us because we’ll perceive you as a monster.”
Mays urged Taylor to think of his son—three years younger than Murphy. “If this were your son, you’d want that person to tell,” he said. At that point, the investigators tell him they have evidence that Murphy’s phone was there on his property, and that they’d found evidence—one of Murphy’s hairs—that she was there.
Taylor said he wanted to see his son, according to Mays. The son and the son’s mother, Taylor’s ex-girlfriend whose mother owns the property where Taylor lived, came and picked up an ATV Taylor had bought for his son, Pittman testified. Afterward, the investigators expected Taylor to tell them what happened to Murphy to give her family closure, said Pittman.
Instead, Taylor admitted Murphy was in his camper and described the previously unmentioned man with cornrows driving a maroon Chevy Caprice. “We smoked a little weed,” said Taylor on the recording. “I got some beer.”
On the tape, the investigators express surprise that a pot dealer would come to the residence of someone he didn’t know, and that Taylor, a man who had a surveillance camera on the camper, would leave Murphy and the man alone in his camper while he went to get beer.
And although Taylor had told police several times on the interview tapes that he wasn’t good with time, he knew exactly how long Murphy and the mystery man had been there. “They were here for over an hour,” he said.
Taylor was arrested that day after Mays and Pittman spent seven hours talking to him. And after he’d locked the camper, FBI investigators executed a second search and found the T-shirt he was wearing in an August 3 surveillance video from the Liberty, balled up under the sofa.
Wendell Cosenza, an FBI expert on cell phone records, testified that the last activity on Murphy’s iPhone—which was found by a canine officer in dense undergrowth about 70 feet from Taylor’s camper, according to testimony— happened at 7:36pm August 3. “And then the phone went silent,” said Consenza.
He also explained cell tower records that put Murphy’s phone in the vicinity of Taylor’s camper at 10506 Thomas Nelson Highway.
FBI electronic engineer Dustin Simerly had examined the phone and cited “extensive damage.” The back of the phone was smashed off, the battery was missing, the battery cables were pulled out, and the processor was cracked, making it impossible to retrieve any information off the phone, he said.
Murphy’s battered phone was shown to the jury in a moment that Trina Murphy would later describe as “emotional and disturbing.”
“It was something Alexis kept with her all the time,” she said. “It clearly speaks to the fact she never left there. She never would have left without that phone.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Martin introduced a scrapbook of photos found in an abandoned house behind Taylor’s camper. He’d attempted to introduce the photos the previous day, claiming they supported the “intent to defile” portion of the abduction charge. Hallahan had objected at that point, and Judge Michael Gamble had refused to admit them May 5, but had a change of heart the next morning.
“The photos are of women in various glamour shots,” said the FBI’s Jon Cromer. Some of the photos had been altered with the face of a young woman pasted on top of other women’s bodies. The woman whose face is depicted is the daughter of the owner of the automobile dealership in Ruckersville where Taylor worked, said Cromer.
Defense attorney Hallahan pointed out that the girls in the scrapbook were white and that it was found in the abandoned house, not in Taylor’s residence. Cromer was unable to say whether fingerprints had been found on the scrapbook.
“I think it speaks to this man’s integrity and fascination with young women,” said Trina Murphy at the end of the court day.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Martin said he expects to call one or two more witnesses tomorrow, May 7, and the prosecution is expected to rest its case.