Convicted murderer Randy Taylor spent his last moments in court bolting for the door.
Moments before, on May 8, a jury had declared him guilty of abducting and killing 17-year-old Alexis Murphy.
“I remember when they read the verdict. All I could hear was a humming noise,” Taylor said in an interview this week with The News & Advance from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he has been held since his arrest Aug. 11, 2013, eight days after the Nelson County High School senior vanished.
During the sentencing portion of the trial, Alexis Murphy’s mother, Laura, had begun tearful testimony about the loss of her daughter.
“I remember her mom sitting up there, but I don’t remember all of it,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t focus.”
Feeling faint, Taylor leaned over to his attorney, Michael Hallahan, to tell him, “I’ve got to leave. I’ve got to go.”
“He told me, ‘You have to stay here for this,’” Taylor recalled.
Taylor sprang from his chair to dart out. He doesn’t recall crossing the room, only the sheriff’s deputies who grabbed him lowering him into a chair outside the courtroom moments later. He said he “meant no disrespect” to the Murphy family.
Within an hour of that outburst, the jury recommended his sentence: life in prison.
Taylor resides now alone in his cell in a segregated holding block of the jail. He wore dress pants, a button-down shirt and a tie in court — he now wears a jail-issued, striped uniform.
Taylor, 48, shares the block with five other inmates, each in their own bar-enclosed cell, just as he has since first arriving at the jail in August.
“I’ve got a lot of people who would like to beat the [expletive] out of me,” Taylor said.
Murphy’s disappearance shook the Nelson County community and drew national attention.
Having such a recognizable, infamous inmate brings unusual challenges for the jail. “We have to shut everything down when we move him,” Randy Keffer, a jail supervisor, said.
Taylor receives his meals through a slot in his cell, beginning with breakfast at 6:30 a.m. Three times a week, guards release him from his cell for recreational time, when he can either use the gym or walk. He has an hour outside his cell each day to shower, make phone calls or watch television.
Because of his notoriety, Keffer said Taylor cannot participate in programs with other inmates.
For Taylor, this brings a grim prospect for the future.
“I don’t want to stay in protective custody all the time,” he said.
After Judge J. Michael Gamble sentences Taylor on July 23, the state Department of Corrections will determine his prison assignment.
Taylor fears his name, and the Daffy Duck tattoo on his neck, will put him at risk in state prison, too.
“I hope that when I go somewhere, this doesn’t follow me,” he said. “I don’t want to have someone attacking me.”
Taylor plans to appeal the verdict.
“I just hope that I get a fair trial and that I get to go to court again. I know they want justice, but I don’t hold the answers to this,” he said of the Murphy family. “It doesn’t give them closure. I think that closure would be having the answers to this case.”
After a week in court, many aspects of Murphy’s disappearance remain unclear. Pulling together resources from the FBI, Virginia State Police and the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office, investigators could not determine exactly what happened the night she vanished or where she may have ended up.
“When it comes down to it, only two people know what happened,” said Nelson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Martin in his closing argument, referring to Taylor and Murphy.
In the interview, Taylor declined to answer questions about the night of Aug. 3, despite repeated attempts, saying he wanted to protect his chance of appeal. He did not testify during his trial.
Surveillance footage from the Liberty gas station in Lovingston shows Taylor stepping aside to hold the door for Murphy on Aug. 3. The gas station cashier had testified she saw Murphy walk back toward her car, pausing several minutes to talk with Taylor.
When asked if he had seen Murphy before that night, Taylor responded, “I can’t answer that question.”
Gas station cashiers, Nelson County residents and Taylor have described Liberty as a hub of activity in the rural county.
“That was the place you go. Everybody goes there,” Taylor said.
He often stopped at the gas station to buy beer, Pall Mall cigarettes or a meal at McDonald’s.
Two gas station employees testified during the trial Taylor typically sat in his truck, glaring as people walked through the parking lot.
Taylor claimed Martin used this image of him as a looming predator to push the jury toward the guilty verdict.
“It’s a book. Either you read my book or the commonwealth’s book, and obviously they read the commonwealth’s book because they found me guilty.”
FBI Special Agent Michael French testified he arrived at Taylor’s property two days after Murphy disappeared.
Looking at the agent’s photo of Murphy, Taylor told him he had not seen her, later admitting to investigators that he lied.
“He was fairly vague in his answers and seemed somewhat evasive,” French said in court
Taylor later would tell investigators Alexis had visited the property that night in connection with a marijuana deal. He said during the interview he had no desire to describe his drug dealings to a federal agent.
“I’m down here drinking beer, smoking weed on this property with a frickin’ minor.”
Taylor said he did not know Murphy’s full name, as she only identified herself as “Lex.” He said he now regrets lying about seeing her.
“We all know I didn’t tell the truth in the beginning. Sure, it doesn’t look good for me.”
After French left the property, investigators placed Taylor under 24-hour surveillance, according to court testimony. He recalled stepping out of his 1956 camper to find helicopters rumbling overhead and camouflaged agents watching him through the woods.
Agents at first found a hair extension, a fingernail or toenail and a piercing in Taylor’s camper. After the FBI developed a DNA profile for Murphy, they matched all three items to her.
During an interview with Taylor, investigators asked him about the shirt he wore the night Murphy disappeared — a blue t-shirt sporting a Miller Lite logo. One officer found it under the couch, blood-stained, with Murphy’s hair extensions and false eyelashes balled up inside, according to court testimony.
“This T-shirt thing really boggles me. It should boggle a lot of people,” Taylor said.
Before this discovery, a search team had combed through the camper. After searching three hours, the team did not find the shirt, FBI agents testified in court.
When asked what he did with the shirt following Aug. 3 — for instance, did he wash it, throw in a clothes pile? — Taylor responded, “I’d rather not talk about that. I do have an answer for that but I can’t state that at this point.”
Murphy’s white iPhone 4 was discovered less than 100 feet from Taylor’s camper in a pile of brush by investigators using dogs trained to locate cell phones. FBI electronic engineers could not draw any information from the phone as its battery had been removed and the microprocessor cracked.
Though Taylor claimed officers planted the iPhone, he could not explain how they came by it. Taylor said he became the suspect in Murphy’s disappearance as an act of revenge, after he mocked the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in the 2010 disappearance of Samantha Clarke.
Investigators believe Clarke vanished from her townhouse in Orange County either the night of Sept. 13, 2010 or the early morning of Sept. 14.
Searching through Clarke’s phone records, investigators found she had received numerous calls from Taylor before she vanished.
He surrendered his cell phone to Orange County investigators, though he said they continued to follow him.
Taylor and his attorney took the story to The Hook — a weekly publication in Charlottesville — to highlight the overzealousness of investigators.
“That really set the bomb off,” Taylor said.
He grew concerned about investigators tracking his phone. When the FBI combed through his property in Nelson County after Murphy disappeared, they retrieved numerous cell phones.
“Every one of those phones was mine.”
Along with calling from different phone numbers, Taylor would take the batteries out of phones not in use.
“You take the battery out of it and there’s no way you can track it.”
Taylor has not been charged in Clarke’s disappearance.
“I don’t know anything about where Samantha Clarke would be or where she would have went.”
Taylor hopes to appeal his guilty verdict and have the case heard in a different county. He blames the verdict in part on a jury tainted with prejudice, pointing to the pink ribbons displayed across street signs and the memorial tree in front of the Liberty gas station.
“There’s too much love toward the family, which is fine, but there’s just too much bias to be held there.”
Taylor compared his week-long trial to riding a rollercoaster where “it seemed like it was more down for me than it was up.”
The prosecution called on about 40 witnesses, including FBI specialists, and presented more than 30 pieces of evidence. Hallahan, appointed by the court to represent Taylor’s case, called on 11 witnesses and rested after about an hour.
“It was supposed to be a two-week trial. He ran out of fuel,” Taylor said.
Hallahan did not respond to phone calls from The News & Advance.
Taylor did not testify during his trial — a decision made by his attorney, he said. In hindsight, Taylor does not believe he would have helped his case by speaking out.
“He would have hounded the crap out of me over and over,” he said of the prosecutor.
Taylor claimed that, on appeal, he would offer new information, touching on the blood-stained T-shirt.
But some things, he said, he will never tell. The friend who he alleges drove him to Charlottesville the night investigators found Murphy’s car remains unknown
“He has nothing to do with this case. Was I there with him? Yes, I was there with him.”
Throughout the investigation, agents referred to the anonymous man as Taylor’s buddy. Taylor told investigators he would not give the friend’s name because he is a marijuana dealer. Taylor said disclosing the man’s identity could also put his family at risk.
“It’s nothing to play with. I’m more worried about my family than anything else with him.”
Taylor’s next appearance in court is set for July 23, when he will be sentenced for the abduction and murder of Alexis Murphy. The victim’s family will be there, too, still seeking answers.
Trina Murphy, great-aunt to Alexis, said she agrees with Taylor — the trial did not give the family complete closure.
“It’s not the closure that we want. We still don’t have Alexis.”
But, she said knowing Taylor remains behind bars brings a sense of comfort and justice to the family.