Scant evidence? Prosecutors trump Taylor's request for open hearing

Anyone hoping to get more information about the evidence prosecutors might be mustering against abduction suspect Randy Allen Taylor would likely feel disappointed after an August 20 ruling closing Taylor's upcoming bond hearing to citizens and media clamoring to learn more about the disappearance of Nelson County teen Alexis Tiara Murphy.

Hook legal analyst David Heilberg, however, says he's not surprised that prosecutors in a small community like Nelson, whose population stands below 15,000, would try to shield their hand.

"How are you ever going to get a jury together if they know everything there is to know about the case in any sensationalized way?" Heilberg asks of the case that has also drawn widespread national attention.

Taylor, a 48-year-old Lovingston resident, was arrested August 11 and charged with abduction in the disappearance of 17-year-old Murphy. By his own months-earlier admission, Taylor is also considered a suspect in the disappearance of another teen, Orange County resident Samantha Ann Clark, who vanished in 2010, on a night when Taylor had repeatedly contacted her by telephone.

In the recent case, investigators have revealed little of the evidence that formed the basis for the arrest, and the warrants have been sealed. Through his attorney, Taylor has indicated he was told by investigators that they'd found a single hair belonging to Murphy in his trailer. His assertions admit that while he did see Murphy the night of August 3 when she vanished, he was not the last to see her. He alleges that an unnamed man whom he describes as a black marijuana dealer in his 20s and driving a 20-year-old burgundy Chevy Caprice with 22-inch rims, left Taylor's property with the teen.

While Heilberg was not present in the Nelson County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for the ruling closing the bond hearing, and has not spoken with prosecutors or with Taylor's attorney, he suspects the decision was based on the "rarely invoked" 1979 ruling in Gannett Co. vs DePasquale.

In that case, the parent company of two Rochester, New York, newspapers and a television station that hoped to cover preliminary hearings sued a New York judge, Daniel DePasquale, who'd blocked media from the courtroom for pretrial hearings in a high-profile murder trial. Gannett's effort to overturn DePasquale's ruling failed.

"Essentially, to keep from prejudicing the public in a sensational case, you may close pre-trial hearings," is Heilberg's summary of the case. The analyst points out that the law requires all criminal trials to be open to the public, and he says that the public can attend Taylor's trial if the case reaches that point.
 
"Eventually, the public will know everything," says Heilberg. "But this allows you to put a jury together."

A defense attorney with some prosecutorial experience, Heilberg says that both sides typically try to keep media away from high-profile cases. In Taylor's case, however, his Charlottesville-based attorney, Mike Hallahan, opposed the motion to close the courtroom.

Heilberg says Hallahan— who has already made several public statements offering details on his client's version of the night Murphy disappeared— may be trying to stem what he sees as a tide of public sentiment flowing against his client. Heilberg suspects "the defense has some things going for it, and Mr. Hallahan wants the public to know about it."

This case is not the first in Central Virginia to attract recent national attention, which can include near daily coverage on what Heilberg calls "infotainment" programs like Nancy Grace. He recalls that the intense media coverage of the 2012 murder trial of former UVA lacrosse player George Huguely led to defense claims that the coverage affected the outcome.

"That's one of the grounds for appeal" in that case, says Heilberg. "And the problems with the Huguely case are magnified in a place as tiny as Nelson."

Taylor's bond hearing is scheduled for Thursday, August 22 at 1pm. Although the details of the hearing will not be released, the outcome, Heilberg says, will be clear.

"Everyone," says Heilberg, "is going to know whether this guy is out on bail or not."

Read more on: Randy Allen Taylor

18 comments

David Heilberg speaks very rationally about these aspects of this particular case, unlike Lloyd Snook over at NBC29.

How are the law enforcement officers in charge of developing a case that will get whatever snatcher/killer of our young people off the streets has to be able to pursue leads, process evidence and find witnesses without media and armchair detectives knowing every fact and broadcasting it around the world. "Leaks" in the Aurora Colorado case have seriously compromised that case.

It appears that a large percentage of America thinks real life is REALLY just reality TV, and these cases are just for their entertainment.

Trials that are open to the public are considered a part of the right to a fair trial.

They can always move the trial if they don't feel they have a large enough jury pool.

But the victim is a minor, and there can be special rules because of that.

I'm sure they can find a lot of people who don't watch the news, or who barely saw a couple of stories about this on the local news. Not everyone reads internet news, not everyone has cable TV, and of those who have cable TV, not all watch CNN. While it'd be nice to have everyone in the community paying attention to every missing child in their reason, it'd be remarkable penetration to reach even 1/3 of local residents.

Whatever decision they read or have reached, I hope they don't release this guy on bail. Two possible abductions? One was bad enough.

"Heilberg says Hallahan— who has already made several public statements offering details on his client's version of the night Murphy disappeared— may be trying to stem what he sees as a tide of public sentiment flowing against his client."

It looks more like he's attention-seeking for his own personal gain.

Court hearing now open to the public

Things that make you go hmmm August 22nd, 2013 | 1:51pm

Court hearing now open to the public

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Until sensative details are disclosed .

NO BOND!!!!!!! one point for the good guys!

YIPPEE! NO BOND!! Not that I thought there would be, but thankful just the same.

From the article (referencing Dave Heilberg's observations): "The law requires all criminal *trials* to be open to the public, and he (Heilberg) says that the public can attend Taylor's trial if the case reaches that point."

If this case goes to trial, all of the inquiring minds who want to know all of the salacious details of the investigation can feel free to attend. Until then, the public is privy only to information deemed necessary--and that is as it should be.

Gobsmacked asks the right question: "How are the law enforcement officers in charge of developing a case that will get whatever snatcher/killer of our young people off the streets has to be able to pursue leads, process evidence and find witnesses without media and armchair detectives knowing every fact and broadcasting it around the world."

Like many, I am consistently puzzled by the position of some that feel that they have the inalienable *right* to know *everything* that LE knows *when* they know it.

They do not.

It's called investigative integrity, and it is critical to the successful resolution of any criminal case.

Is that not what we all want--successful resolution of this case, and whomever is the BG off the streets?

For those who may still be struggling with the fact that todays' hearing was closed in part--and extrapolated from that some nefarious intent on the part of the prosecution and Commonwealth--an astute commenter on another site posted:

"The Commonwealth is not hiding anything from those that have an actual *need to know*. It's *not* like they barred Taylor's lawyer and the officers of the court. There will be a transcript of *everything* that transpires today in court. *Should anything that pertains to ongoing public safety be revealed today in court*, I'm sure there will be a press release. Lastly, just because "a single hair" is all the evidence leaked so far does *not* mean that that is all the evidence they have. You act as though Randy Taylor never admitted that Alexis was at his camper-home the night she disappeared."

Well said.

This guy seems to fly under the radar without actually flying under it. I know that may not make much sense and I have no idea how someone has the time to rack up all those charges in the past what, 15 years in a region alone? He just seems to slither away. As for all the details of what is going on, I can patiently wait, but I am getting very impatient about getting Alexis home. For me that is first and foremost.

Help me to understand... August 22nd, 2013 | 6:49pm

an astute commenter on another site posted:
_________________________________________________________________________

I wish that you had copied and pasted some other posts by this same "astute commenter" before they were deleted by the censors on the other site. Particularly the two just preceding the one you posted above.

Gobsmacked August 22nd, 2013 | 7:34pm: "I wish that you had copied and pasted some other posts by this same "astute commenter" before they were deleted by the censors on the other site. Particularly the two just preceding the one you posted above."

They must have been deleted before I was able to see them. Can you any shed light on the general gist of the posts?

Was there not an officer(s) involved shooting very close to where Taylor camper was recently off rt29 in Nelson just a couple years ago involving and SUV and at least one person shot several times ?

If I recall this was an undercover narcotics investigation with Amherst officers but I don't remember the resolve to it .

Maybe 2 years ago .

Help me to understand... August 22nd, 2013 | 7:43pm

They must have been deleted before I was able to see them. Can you any shed light on the general gist of the posts?
_________________________________________________________________________

One was very similar to the one you re-posted, in response to a different poster, but both had to do with media leaking information that was detrimental to the prosecution of a high-profile case. One brought up the leak in the Colorado Theater case. The other brought up the fact that during the early days of the George Huguely murder trial, that media outlet published online sensitive documents without redacting witness names and personal information. They even published Huguely's SS#. Every word contained in the post was factual.

They have since deleted most of the posts with comments supporting a closed hearing. Biased much?

Thanks, Gobsmacked, for the add'l info above. The bias is clear...that, and in the intent to distract attention from that outlet's earlier, egregious error in publishing sensitive documents w/o first redacting certain information.

I attended the opening day of the GH trial; it was a media circus of the highest order--at least by CV standards. [Not to de-rail this thread, but I find it interesting that GH (and/or his family) have sufficient financial means left to them following the trial to be able to continue to mount an appeal of his sentence using a very high profile--and pricey--firm. If he is ever successful on appeal, I will eat my hat, as will thousands of people around CV and beyond.]

[Correction: appeal of GH's conviction, not appeal of his sentence.]