On the second day of the murder trial of Randy Allen Taylor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Martin’s 40-minute opening statement laid out his case against Taylor, accused of slaying 17-year-old Alexis Murphy, who was last seen on August 3 at the Liberty gas station in Lovingston. Martin detailed the physical evidence found in Taylor’s camper—Murphy’s blood, torn fingernail, and hair with roots attached—and connected Taylor to Murphy’s car found in the Carmike Theatre parking lot, while defense attorney Michael Hallahan stressed to the jury, “There’s way too much reasonable doubt.”
Testimony began with Murphy’s family members. Her mother, Laura Murphy, wearing a pink ribbon, described a happy teenager about to enter her senior year of high school as co-captain of the volleyball team, who had just gotten a raise at her job at Kid to Kid in Charlottesville, and was off the evening of August 3 to buy hair extensions in Lynchburg for her upcoming class photograph. Alexis was “never, never” without her iPhone4 and was “obsessed with her hair,” said her mother, who became emotional on the stand several times.
“That was the last day I saw my daughter,” she said.
Alexis and her mother lived with Alexis’ grandmother, Gayle Taylor, in Shipman. Gayle Taylor, not related to the defendant, also testified about Murphy’s excitement about getting new hair extensions in Lynchburg. She said she told Alexis to take a house key that night, even though her granddaughter said she’d be home before Taylor went to bed around 10:30pm. She also called Alexis “a scared kind of person” who always called several times when she was on her way home because she was afraid to walk from the car into the house in the dark.
The grandmother left a light on for Alexis. “When I woke up at 1:20, I knew something was wrong because that light was still on,” she said.
Martin also asked family members, the volleyball coach, and her employer at Kid to Kid whether they’d heard from her over the past 10 months. No, replied the first six witnesses.
Randy Taylor told investigators he spent August 3 four-wheeling in Orange and arrived home around 9pm, said Martin. A video taken on August 3 at 5:21pm from adult sex shop Ultimate Bliss on Angus Road in Charlottesville showed Taylor going into the store. A store employee testified he bought two videos: “A Doll’s House” and “Mexican Pussy.”
Two employees at Liberty gas station said Taylor was a regular customer who usually bought Pall Mall Reds shorts and beer, and who would park his camouflaged Suburban in the parking lot for hours. Taylor would “gawk” at the teenaged girls who came into the station after school, said assistant manager Tammy Hitt.
“He’d sit there for hours watching everybody,” said Melissa Jarrell, who was working August 3 and saw both Murphy and Taylor at the station around 7pm. “He was the last person you’d want to be alone with”
Jarrell said she watched Murphy walk across the Liberty parking lot. “I saw her turn her head as if someone spoke to her, then she walked over to [Taylor’s] car and they talked.”
Video from the gas station entered as evidence showed Taylor, wearing a blue t-shirt with a Miller Lite logo, hold the door for Murphy as she entered the store and he left. Another clip showed Taylor’s Suburban headed north on U.S. 29 followed by the Nissan Maxima Murphy was driving that night.
Some of the female FBI agents who searched Taylor’s camper August 6 also were “uncomfortable” with his “very intense stare,” said Special Agent Britney Wampler, who discovered the fingernail, hair, and stud later identified through DNA analysis as belonging to Murphy.
Wampler also said she observed matted grass behind an abandoned house on the property where Taylor lived with tire marks that “looked like a vehicle low to the ground,” unlike Taylor’s larger SUV. Grass and mud were later found under Murphy’s Nissan Maxima.
Agents were there for six hours August 7 conducting a thorough search of the camper that included turning over the sofa, bed, and chair and going through every piece of clothing.
And yet, pointed out defense attorney Hallahan, they didn’t find Taylor’s balled-up Miller Lite t-shirt with Murphy’s blood, false eyelash, and hair under the sofa, which was discovered after Taylor had been arrested. “What I submit is that Wednesday [August 7] the shirt and hair weren’t there,” said Hallahan.
It’s long been a mystery how the white Nissan Maxima Murphy was driving ended up in the Carmike Theater parking lot, where it was discovered Tuesday, August 6.
Martin entered surveillance video from the Armed Forces recruiting station that showed the Nissan appear in the Carmike lot around 10pm Sunday, August 4. “Interestingly,” said prosecutor Martin, “the defendant shows up at Applebee’s restaurant within walking distance.”
Bartender Jerry Madison Jr. testified that a “sweating” Taylor showed up at Applebee’s after 10pm that night, ordered two Heinekens, and asked for a cab. “He said his buddy was passed out outside,” said Madison. “I never saw anybody.”
Nor did cab driver John Statt, who said he drove Taylor to Woods Mill, about three miles north of Taylor’s camper.
The last of 18 witnesses was James Melia with the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Response Team. Hallahan asked him about human trafficking, to which the prosecution objected and which the judge sustained. After the jury left for the day, Melia said he’s never had a case of abduction where the person was trafficked.
“I want trafficking in,” said Taylor’s attorney.
Hallahan also asked witnesses whether Murphy would have gone to Taylor’s house alone, suggesting that she was with someone else who was the real killer. And he urged the jurors not to be swayed by the emotion of a promising young woman who disappeared or her grief-stricken family. “You can’t convict [Taylor] on a hunch, probability or suspicion,” said Hallahan.
After court was adjourned for the day, family spokesperson Trina Murphy said, “I’ve always said he is a predator.” And after hearing the day’s evidence, “It’s difficult to think about what [Alexis’] last moments were like.”
For two days in court Trina Murphy has sat within feet of her niece’s accused killer. “I want him to look at me,” she said. “He needs to see the suffering we’ve had the past 10 months and tell us where Alexis is.”
The trial resumes Monday.