Alibi redux: Taylor points the finger again
Ten months after he told the Hook he was the victim of an overzealous investigation into missing Orange County teen Samantha Clarke, Randy Allen Taylor seems to be planning a similar defense in the disappearance of 17-year-old Nelson County resident Alexis Murphy. But while authorities on the case are keeping mum, the former lead investigator in the Morgan Harrington case isn't buying the story.
"I don't believe in coincidences," says retired Virginia State Police Lt. Joe Rader, who was the public face of the Harrington investigation after the 20-year-old Virginia Tech student vanished in October 2009 and her remains were discovered on an Albemarle County farm three months later in January 2010.
Indeed, the similarities between Taylor's version of events the night 19-year-old Samantha Clarke disappeared in September 2010— when he called her multiple times, he told the Hook in an interview last October— and his story about his encounter with Murphy on August 3, if true, would be a stunning coincidence.
In the Clarke case, Taylor, now 48, insisted he'd been placing those calls simply to warn Clarke that he'd heard threats made against her by people they knew in common. He'd been home with his young son that night, he said, and had had no contact with her beyond those calls.
Now, nearly three years later, Taylor's telling a similar tale.
Taylor's Charlottesville-based attorney Mike Hallahan could not be reached for comment— and his voicemail was not accepting messages— but according to an August 14 interview the lawyer gave to NBC29, Taylor admits that he encountered Murphy at the Liberty gas station in Lovingston the evening she vanished and that they recognized each other. They'd met about a month earlier at the local carwash where Taylor worked, and he'd told her he'd like to get some marijuana, Hallahan told the news organization.
When they saw each other at the Liberty, according to the interview, which came the same day dozens of federal, state, and local investigators swarmed the Thomas Nelson Highway property on which Taylor lived, Murphy told Taylor, "'I know a guy." Hallahan alleged the teen then accompanied his client to another location in Lovingston, where they met up with a black man in his mid- to late-20s sporting cornrows and driving a 20-year-old burgundy-colored Chevrolet Caprice with 22-inch after-market rims.
The tale has the three then returning to Taylor's property where the Taylor purchased $60 of marijuana from the unidentified man. The man and Murphy, who had not smoked anything or consumed any alcohol, then left Taylor's property, Hallahan said, and Taylor hasn't seen her since.
According to Hallahan, Taylor told police about the man and suggested his DNA would be on a bottle of Icehouse beer discarded at the camper. Hallahan further explained that police told Taylor he'd been arrested because they'd found one of Murphy's hairs in the camper and he questioned how a single hair could provide probable cause for an abduction charge. A bond hearing is now scheduled for Thursday, August 22.
Hook legal analyst David Heilberg says it's unusual for a defense attorney to speak out in this way, offering details of a defense.
"I never comment about my cases," says Heilberg, who says that's standard defense attorney practice.
"When you go out in public with something, that can backfire," says Heilberg. Fellow defense attorney Hallahan, Heilberg surmises, "must be doing his client's bidding."
While Heilberg says he'd consider "firing" a client who made such a demand, he says the same option may not be available for a court-appointed attorney.
The case has attracted national media attention after the link between the Murphy case and the Clarke case was revealed following Taylor's August 11 arrest. Questions have also swirled about the FBI's role in the investigation.
According to FBI spokesperson Dee Rybiski, the federal agency is simply offering assistance at the request of the Nelson County Sheriff's Office, but others have wondered if the visible presence of federal agents means Taylor could be involved in crimes across state lines.
Rader, uninvolved in the Murphy case, says that while that's one possibility, it's also likely that the federal presence pertains to Murphy's status as a minor.
"They do have a response team for abductions, and potential missing minors," says Rader. "Whatever reason they're there, I'm glad they're there, working on getting quick results."
As for whether the Murphy case could be connected in some way to the disappearance of Morgan Harrington— whose death has been linked by DNA to a 2005 unsolved sexual assault in Fairfax— Rader is circumspect. After all, Harrington's body was found on a farm along U.S. 29 South between Charlottesville and Lovingston— the same road on which Murphy was last seen— but the unidentified suspect in the Harrington case, according to the description of the surviving Fairfax victim, is a black male.
"I don't know what information they have," Rader says of the Murphy case. He suggests that any possible links to other crimes, even Harrington's, will be closely examined.
"There's a whole lot going on up and down the 29 corridor area," says Rader.
While more information about the evidence collected against Randy Taylor will likely be revealed at the August 22 bond hearing, a legal analyst says that unless Taylor changes his tune and confesses to something, there's one question about this man who is among the last to see missing women.
"Is he the most unfortunate man in the world," asks Heilberg, "or is he manipulative in every way and just trying to stay one step ahead of the jailkeeper?"