Both the prosecution and the defense rested their cases on May 7 in the trial of Randy Allen Taylor, 48, charged with the murder and abduction of Alexis Taylor, who was last seen with Taylor at the Liberty gas station in Lovingston on August 3. After closing arguments, during which both sides agreed on only one thing—that Taylor was a liar—the case went to the jury at the end of the day.
“Randy Taylor is not charged with lying to the police or smoking marijuana or driving on a suspended license,” said Taylor’s lawyer, Michael Hallahan. “Taylor lied to investigators repeatedly. You can suspect he’s guilty of something, but that’s not beyond reasonable doubt.”
Taylor is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree murder during the commission of an abduction, and abduction with intent to defile.
The day began with prosecution witness Wayne Ray Buraker, a self-described habitual offender who was in Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail in August, soon after Taylor arrived there. Dressed in inmate black-and-white stripes, Buraker said he was in a cell beside Taylor on August 16 and 17—less than a week after Taylor’s arrest. He asked his new cell neighbor about Murphy and claimed the defendant replied, “The first time I saw her, I wanted to f*ck her my way.”
Buraker also said he’d seen Taylor on Nancy Grace’s television show and denied law enforcement had encouraged him to talk to Taylor.
Defense attorney Hallahan, scoffed, “You’re probably pretty proud to be able to accomplish what hundreds of FBI agents couldn’t after you just met him.”
The prosecution also called to the stand Louise Turner, who is the mother of Taylor’s son and whose mother owns the property on U.S. 29 north of Lovingston where Taylor lived in a 1956 camper that he had restored. Turner confirmed that their son, 14, had been with her the weekend Alexis Murphy disappeared.
Nelson Sheriff’s Office investigator Billy Mays confirmed he had checked out the story of Dameon Bradley, the man Taylor had fingered as being with Murphy in his camper the night she disappeared, drinking beer and smoking marijuana. Bradley testified that he’d never been to Taylor’s camper, and had been with his girlfriend in a motel in Madison Heights when Murphy disappeared.
Mays also said he had participated in at least 20 searches to find Murphy.
The defense produced 11 witnesses in little more than an hour, including Lisa Woodfolk, who works for Charlottesville Parking Center and who claimed she’d seen both Murphy and Taylor park in a downtown Charlottesville garage in separate cars, but she couldn’t recall the date. She also said she’d seen a burgundy Chrysler drive down Garrett Street. Taylor has alleged that Murphy left his camper with a man with cornrows who drove a maroon Chevy Caprice.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Martin related previous testimony from an FBI agent who said he spent more than 24 hours viewing parking garage surveillance video from that location and saw no camouflaged Suburban, which is what Taylor drove, nor the white Nissan Maxima Murphy was driving.
“They’re lying,” said Woodfolk.
“You want your 15 minutes of fame?” Martin asked Woodfolk.
Other defense witnesses included two women who testified they’d seen someone who looked like Murphy walk across the parking lot at the Food Lion in Lovingston with another young woman around 8:30pm on August 3. Kristina Robertson said she knew the time because she had a Food Lion receipt, but said it would be difficult to identify the woman as Murphy. “I never saw her face,” said Robertson.
Murphy’s best friend, Malaysia Page, admitted Murphy smoked marijuana, but said it was infrequently. Murphy had thousands of followers on Twitter, said Page, and she projected the persona of “a party girl,” but in person was not that way.
By the time closing arguments began at nearly 4pm, the historic Nelson County Circuit Court was packed with Murphy’s family, friends, and law enforcement, many of whom had been released as witnesses.
“When it comes down to it, only two people know what happened in that camper Saturday, August 3, between 7:17 and 7:30,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Martin. “One of them is here—the defendant Randy Taylor. The other has been silenced.”
He referred to the testimony of family and friends who said the rising senior at Nelson County High and volleyball co-captain had just gotten a raise at her job at Kid to Kid, was happy with her life and looking at going to college.
“All of that changed when she walked across the parking lot of the Liberty gas station and that man held the door for her,” said Martin, who wasted no words accusing Taylor of lying to investigators. “He thought he could fast talk his way out of it,” said Martin. “Then he tried the oldest trick in the book—blame it on someone else. He drags in poor Dameon Bradley.”
Martin admitted he didn’t know why Murphy went to Taylor’s camper and said it could have been drugs, which he called “abduction by deception.” Taylor said in interview tapes that Murphy came to his house with the cornrows-wearing man to bring him pot, something Martin said made no sense since Taylor had claimed he’d been with a friend buying weed that night and had refused to provide investigators a name.
The prosecutor described Taylor as a hunter looking for prey. “She was seized and detained by him as soon as she got on that property like a deer hunter,” said Martin. “The one thing that could have saved her was her cell phone.” FBI experts testified that the last activity on Murphy’s phone came at 7:17pm, and it was found smashed August 13 near Taylor’s camper.
“The biggest problem in [Taylor’s] story—and it is a story—is that she left alone and was fine,” said Martin. “Is it reasonable to leave without her hair extension, her nail, her blood and cell phone?”
Martin reminded the jury it was not necessary to produce Murphy’s body for a homicide conviction, and repeatedly used the word “child” to describe Murphy. “He wants you to reward him for disposing of the body,” said Martin.
In his hour-long closing argument, defense attorney Hallahan stressed, “There’s no proof or evidence of her death,” and insisted police got the wrong man when there was “clear evidence” of a third party, according to Taylor’s account.
Hallahan cited Murphy’s father and grandmother, who testified she would not have gone to a strange man’s home by herself. And he said Murphy clearly had plans that Saturday night beyond going to Lynchburg to buy hair extensions.
A clerk at Ultimate Bliss had testified that Taylor purchased two porn videos around 5pm that day. “At 5 o’clock, abduction or killing was the furthest thing from his mind,” said Hallahan.
He also questioned testimony from the cashiers at the Liberty gas station who said they were “creeped out” by Taylor but had never called police.
A bartender at Applebee’s said Taylor showed up sweaty on the same night Murphy’s car turned up at the Carmike. “It’s the hottest part of the summer,” said Hallahan, and noted that the Carmike parking lot was closer to Kid to Kid, where Murphy worked, than Applebee’s. He also wondered why, with the extensive FBI viewing of surveillance video, none turned up showing Taylor walking to Applebee’s.
Hallahan reminded the jury that an extensive FBI search of Taylor’s tiny camper on August 7 did not turn up the bloodied t-shirt he wore the night Murphy disappeared. “If he succeeded in getting rid of her and the clothes and the car, why would he bring it back?” said Hallahan. “Keep thinking about how the shirt and the phone magically appeared after those searches.”
Murphy’s cell phone was discovered August 13 in a briary patch about 70 feet from Taylor’s camper when cell phone-sniffing dogs were brought in after other searches failed to find it.
The defense criticized the FBI agent who testified tire marks of a mid-sized car were found behind an abandoned house near the camper, yet never measured the marks, which Hallahan suggested could have come from the ATV Taylor’s son was riding August 5.
“There’s no evidence tying Alexis Murphy to [Taylor’s] Suburban or his four-wheel drive,” said Hallahan. “That’s beyond reasonable doubt. That’s not guilty.”
Hallahan posited some alternative theories about what happened to Murphy. “What if someone paid him $10,000 to kidnap and sell her overseas?” he asked.
He pointed out Taylor bore no injuries indicating a violent struggle at the time of his arrest, and suggested there could have been no abduction because Murphy followed Taylor to his home.
“You’re going to find there’s not enough beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Hallahan. “You may not like him, but that’s not enough to convict him.”
In his rebuttal, Commonwealth’s Attorney Martin grabbed the stack of evidence envelopes containing Murphy’s hair, torn fingernail, diamond stud, broken cell phone, and Taylor’s t-shirt with Murphy’s blood.
“This stuff doesn’t lie,” said Martin, who produced a chart titled, “Randy Taylor’s Lies,” and another called, “Why Randy Taylor Is Guilty.”
In a dramatic finale, Martin silently opened one of the evidence bags, put on gloves, and held up Taylor’s T-shirt and Murphy’s hair extension. “No abduction? No murder?” said the prosecutor, citing the adage “evil triumphs when people do nothing.”
“Don’t let evil triumph,” he concluded.
The jury begins deliberation May 8.
Correction: The original post misquoted the inmate’s account of what Taylor allegedly said. Taylor used the words “my way” not “nine ways.”