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Randy Allen Taylor, charged in the Aug. 3 disappearance of Alexis Murphy, was also being watched by police in 2011.
Randy Allen Taylor
Samantha Ann Clarke
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Randy Allen Taylor discovered the GPS device taped to the rear of his blue Mercury sedan a short time after the wee-hour traffic stop along U.S. 29.
The tracker was planted by the lead investigator working the case of a missing teenager. Taylor said he tried to contact the teen just before she went missing, according to authorities.
A case against the slightly built ex-convict never materialized in the disappearance of Samantha Clarke, 19, of Orange.
Two years and four months after the April 2011 traffic stop, Taylor is linked to another missing teen — Alexis Murphy, 17, of Shipman. Authorities charged Taylor with abduction a week ago after finding a strand of Murphy’s hair in the tiny camper where he lived in Lovingston, according to Taylor’s court-appointed lawyer. No signs of Murphy have emerged.
Taylor, 48, said Murphy visited his camper Aug. 3, the last night her family saw her, but he said she was with another man whose name Taylor didn’t know, his lawyer has said. The man and Murphy left in separate cars, and Taylor never saw them again, his lawyer said. Authorities won’t comment on Taylor’s account, and Murphy’s relatives have said they don’t believe it.
Seeing Taylor’s name splashed across newspapers and television screens kindles a mix of emotions — a feeling of vindication and wondering over what might have been, said Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana Wheeler.
“We’d been looking at him for quite some time” in the Clarke case, Wheeler said. “You just think, if you had enough evidence to charge, could this have been prevented from happening?”
Taylor lawyer Michael Hallahan condemned speculation linking his client to Clarke and other unsolved cases along the U.S. 29 corridor. Hallahan described authorities as singling out Taylor.
“The media is making [Taylor] out to be a monster,” he said. “I think it’s a lot easier for police to pick on a guy who’s been picked on before.”
The series of events that culminated in the fateful traffic stop began unfolding several months earlier in January 2011 with the planting of the GPS.
Authorities won’t comment on that move, and court records related to the stop provide conflicting accounts — one officer said the Blue Ridge Narcotics Task Force was tracking Taylor, while an officer from the task force said that wasn’t so.
Town of Orange detective Evans Oakerson tailed Taylor to Charlottesville on April 21, when the batteries in the device began dying, according to court records.
Oakerson asked Greene County sheriff’s deputies to stop Taylor. Authorities charged him with driving under the influence, driving on a suspended license, carrying a concealed weapon and possessing a handgun as a convicted felon.
After hearing testimony from Orange and Greene authorities, Judge Daniel Bouton threw out evidence gained from what he called a “warrantless search and seizure,” court records state.
Greene County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronald Morris withdrew the charges.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2013 — roughly two years after the device was planted on Taylor’s car — that warrants are required for GPS tracking.
“When they did that, the Supreme Court had not yet said you need a warrant,” said Wheeler, who consulted with the investigators hoping to track Taylor’s movements, according to court records.
Taylor discovered the device while examining the broken license plate bulb that a Greene deputy said prompted the traffic stop.
He ripped out the batteries, and a day later, nine investigators pulled up to the Ruckersville car lot where he worked, demanding the device, according to a written account in Taylor’s court file. When he said he did not have the unit, several officers returned and snatched it away from a co-worker Taylor had asked to safeguard it.
“We knew it was about that girl missing in Orange,” said Tere Vann, Taylor’s former employer.
Wheeler would not say why Taylor was being shadowed on the night he was stopped or whether the GPS device was linked to Clarke’s case.
“Him being pulled over that night had nothing to do with the GPS device,” Wheeler said.
Taylor’s license plate light was out, a Greene deputy wrote in a criminal complaint dated April 22. His driver’s license was suspended, another deputy testified. Taylor had been in a “known drug area” earlier that night, according to another account in court records.
Transmission logs show the GPS device went dead at 8:12 p.m. Oakerson contacted Greene deputies at 12:58 a.m. after following Taylor from Charlottesville to a Sheetz convenience store on U.S. 29, saying “there was a good chance that his vehicle might contain some evidence of illegal activity,” Bouton recounted in his ruling.
An officer pulled Taylor over at 1:43 a.m., citing the broken plate light. The same officer later testified he knew Taylor’s license had been suspended but failed to bring it up before calling for a drug dog to search the car, court records state.
“The problem here, and the court will be very direct about it, is that looking at it objectively, really the officers have given three — there’s really three different versions of what happened here,” Bouton said. “And they really don’t add up. They contradict each other and they’re all in some ways at odds with one another.”
Bouton challenged what he called the “strange coincidences” surrounding the stop.
“So … we got one officer saying he’s supporting these two colleagues from the task force, tracking this guy with a GPS.
“The one officer from the task force who is here is telling us, ‘ Nope, didn’t happen that way, we weren’t tracking him, didn’t happen that way at all, just ran into him,’ ” Bouton said. “Then the officers can’t even agree on how it was that they supposedly knew that the defendant’s license was suspended, who communicated what to whom, when. And then when he gets pulled over … there is not even any mention of this license suspension.”
Adam Rhea, the Charlottesville-based attorney who represented Taylor in the Greene case, did not respond to an interview request.
Town of Orange Police Chief James Fenwick referred questions to Wheeler. She declined to comment when asked what impact the stop might have had on attempts to build a case against Taylor.
“The charges that came out in Greene County were not our charges,” she said.
Greene’s prosecutor also declined to comment.
“It’s just difficult to predict what would have happened had the case gone forward,” Morris said.
Taylor is being held in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. He faces a bond hearing Thursday.
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