The man convicted of abducting and murdering 17-year-old Alexis Murphy will serve two life sentences in prison.
Just before handing down the sentence Wednesday, Nelson County Circuit Court Judge J. Michael Gamble asked Randy Taylor, 49, if he had anything to say.
Taylor rose from his seat, dressed in a black-and-white striped jumpsuit, tattoos peeking out from his collar and shirtsleeves.
The only words he spoke during his May trial were “not guilty.” As Taylor glanced around the court Wednesday, speaking to Gamble and the Murphy family, his message remained unchanged.
“I didn’t kill Alexis Murphy,” he said. “It’s probably one of the biggest things to happen in Nelson County, and I’m sorry to be a part of it.”
Wednesday’s hearing began with Taylor’s attorney, Mike Hallahan, filing motions asking for Gamble to set aside the jury’s verdict — guilty of one count of first-degree murder and one count of abduction with intent to defile. The jury recommended two life sentences.
Hallahan argued too many questions remained unanswered.
“The closest the Commonwealth came to proving her death was the lack of her appearance. The evidence is clearly suspicious, but it doesn’t come close to certainty," he said.
Nelson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Martin then reviewed evidence from the case, arguing the jury had sufficient evidence to find Taylor guilty.
“Everything was found on the defendant’s property. We had a large puddle of blood on the defendant’s shirt. It was plainly the same shirt seen on the video,” Martin said in court.
Surveillance footage from the Liberty gas station, off U.S. 29 in Lovingston, showed Taylor and Murphy walking by one another the night of Aug. 3 when Murphy vanished.
Gamble dismissed Hallahan’s motions and affirmed the jury’s guilty verdict.
“A homicide can be proven even though a body has not been found,” Gamble said from the judge’s bench. “The facts clearly show the source of the struggle. All of that was found inside the trailer.”
Martin called only one witness in the Wednesday hearing, Vickie Dowell, a probation officer.
Dowell interviewed Taylor twice to discuss his criminal record before the sentencing hearing.
She testified Taylor lied about some of his past criminal charges spanning multiple states, including Washington, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia and New Jersey.
“He denied having a juvenile record,” Dowell testified. “He denied living in New Jersey, but he did have a record in New Jersey.”
Dowell said Taylor’s first offenses were property crimes committed at the age of 16 which led him to be placed in foster care for one year.
Hallahan declined to cross-examine the witness.
Before concluding his argument, Martin read from a letter written by Laura Murphy, mother of Alexis.
The letter highlighted the day-to-day struggle spanning nearly a year of a mother wondering if she would ever see her child again, and the irreparable gap left in the family.
“My whole world has revolved around finding her and bringing her home. We cried on all of the holidays because we missed her so much,” Martin read in court. “I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone, even Randy Taylor. Justice will be served with him never getting out of jail.”
In his closing argument, Hallahan brought forth an offer that Taylor would disclose information on Murphy’s whereabouts. Rather than two life sentences, Taylor would receive 20 years in prison.
“We have a life sentence versus an almost-life sentence where we could give the family some closure.”
Martin retorted that the offer already had been considered and dismissed by him and the Murphy family.
“We have definitely done our best to give this family some closure. We have to balance closure with public safety,” Martin said. “His criminal history goes for four pages.”
After Hallahan presented this offer, Taylor stood and maintained his innocence in court.
In an interview with The News & Advance, Taylor said he plans to file an appeal. He feels the judge should have ordered a change of venue and that his attorney gave a lackluster defense.
During the May trial, Hallahan did not introduce new evidence, and the defense rested after about an hour.
“It was supposed to be a two-week trial. He ran out of fuel,” Taylor said in a previous interview.
Petitions for appeal must be filed after a sentencing hearing and are presented to the Virginia Court of Appeals. A panel of three judges will then consider whether or not to overturn a verdict.
Outside the courthouse Wednesday, Murphy’s family said the end of Taylor’s hearings does not mark the end of their strife.
“We got a life sentence last August third,” said Trina Murphy, great-aunt to Alexis. “Continue to pray for us. Pray for our strength.”
Murphy’s great-aunt scoffed at the deal presented by Hallahan during the sentencing hearing.
“I’m not bargaining with a murderer,” she said. “He will never do this to another young girl or a community.”
Within two weeks, the family will mark the one year anniversary since Murphy vanished. A year ago, a young woman, lean from volleyball camp, eagerly awaited her senior year at Nelson County High School.
The night of Aug. 3, she drove her father’s car to the Liberty gas station to fill up the tank before heading to Lynchburg for hair extensions.
Now, a pink Christmas tree sits at the gas station to memorialize the girl who vanished. Weather-worn pink ribbons remain dangling from mailboxes and street signs.
Angela Taylor, Murphy’s aunt, said they plan to have a basketball tournament and candlelight vigil to honor the missing teenager.
“It didn’t stop today,” she said after the Wednesday hearing. “It will be the beginning of a healing process.”