Overturned: Bizarre 2004 murder case returned to Harris County for retrial

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerOctober 12, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI/rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comFaye Railey of rural Cataula holds old photos of her late husband, Lamar, and a picture of the young couple taken at a mall photo booth. Zachary Bouvier Taylor was convicted as the hit-and-run driver who ran down Lamar, then 54 years old. Taylor's convction on several charges has been set aside pending questions involving his mental competency and whether or not he received a fair trial.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

HAMILTON, Ga. --

Faye Railey remembers the shock she felt when she learned that the man sentenced to life for her husband's murder was back in town.

Her daughter, who works in a beauty shop in this small Harris County town, heard the news from a customer in April.

"I was never so surprised in my life," Railey said.

The widow of Leonard Lamar Railey had spent almost eight years somewhat comforted by the assurance that the man who ambushed her husband, a tow truck service owner, was locked up in a state prison.

"I thought it was all over and done with," she said of the Harris Superior Court case a jury decided in December 2005. The verdict found Zachary Bouvier Taylor was the hit-and-run driver who ran her husband down outside a store in February 2004.

"Somebody should have been talking to me," Railey said of Taylor's return to Harris County. She said she and the district attorney's office had asked the state parole board and other state authorities to notify them if Taylor was ever to have a parole hearing -- much less be released from the prison system.

"It was a surprise to everybody when they sent him back," she said. "They kept moving him from prison to prison, but I kept up with him … until one day I looked online and couldn't find him."

That's because Taylor was no longer in the Department of Corrections system. His conviction and sentences of life and 80 years imprisonment for murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery had been set aside on April 16 by Bibb County Superior Court Judge Edgar Ennis Jr.

Ennis ruled that Taylor had not received a fair trial due to ineffectiveness of his Atlanta defense attorney, who failed to adequately investigate an insanity defense or to challenge the competency of his client to stand trial.

"He had a fair trial," Railey said. "Yes, he had problems. I even got a threatening letter from him while he was in jail here, and my husband is dead and gone because of this man. My husband had rights, too, didn't he?"

Former Assistant District Attorney Mark Post, now in private practice in Columbus, said this case has weighed upon Railey since she rushed to her husband's side as he lay on the ground following the hit-and-run crime.

"I think it's still really tough on her," said Post, who prosecuted the case. "The way Lamar died -- one of the last things he did as the ambulance was taking him away was to give her his wedding ring."

Post said he knew Taylor had psychiatric problems -- everybody involved in the case was aware there were problems -- but the defense never raised the issue. The prosecutor said he had even arranged to have a psychiatric specialist waiting near the courtroom during the pre-trial phase, in case he was needed.

"That's the only time in 20 years that I had brought a psychiatrist to the courthouse for a hearing," Post said. "I did everything I could to say, 'You might want to consider raising this defense.'"

At one point, deputies had to restrain Taylor during the trial as he threatened to become violent, but the defense still didn't raise the competency or insanity issue, he said.

"The judge tried mightily to get the gentleman focused on presenting a defense. It was just a case of obvious guilt, and it's sad to see it's back before the court again," Post said.

But this time, neither Post nor anyone from the office of Chattahoochee Circuit District Attorney Julia Slater will be prosecuting Taylor. Attorney Laura Joan Murphree of Marietta, Ga., has been appointed special prosecutor because of a conflict involving a lawyer in Slater's office who was involved early in defense of the previous case.

Columbus attorney Alphonza Whitaker will defend Taylor.

Atlanta attorney Benjamin Davis, who defended Taylor in the 2005 trial, will have no involvement in the retrial. He did not return calls and could not be reached for comment about the court's decision concerning his actions in the first trial.

Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan, who will preside over the next trial, brought all parties to his Harris County courtroom in September for the initial pre-trial hearing for the remanded case.

No motions or other actions have been filed. An order for a state mental evaluation of Taylor was requested in July and all parties are awaiting results from that examination.

If the case reaches retrial -- which will only happen if Taylor is found competent to stand trial -- the evidence will remain much the same as in the original trial, which presented a strange trail of activity before, during and after the incident in which Lamar Railey died.

The facts of the case

Taylor was charged with murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery following a Feb. 13, 2004, incident in which Taylor was accused of striking Leonard "Lamar" Railey with an automobile.

That incident had its beginnings three and a half years earlier, when on Oct. 3, 2001, Taylor -- then a student in a doctoral program at Auburn University -- was using a computer in the university library. Another student, Cynthia Tucker, was taking a test at a nearby computer when Taylor banged a stapler on the desk surface.

When Tucker asked him to be a little quieter, Taylor allegedly yelled profanities and threatened to hurt her if she spoke to him again.

Auburn University police were summoned, with Tucker asking that Taylor be prosecuted.

Armed with a warrant, police arrested Taylor on Nov. 12, 2001, and a hearing was set for Jan. 17, 2002, in a Lee County, Ala., court.

Three days before that hearing, however, Tucker was crossing a university parking lot when a car swerved to chase the dodging student, striking her and then leaving the accident scene. University officers investigating the incident suspected Taylor was driving the vehicle and traveled to Harris County 12 days later to obtain a search warrant and accompany Harris County officers in retrieval of Taylor's automobile.

The officers found Taylor's 2002 Chevy Malibu at his Ellerslie residence and Lamar Railey of Railey's Towing Co. was called to tow the vehicle to a storage shed in Auburn.

After forensic investigators were unable to find any evidence linking Taylor's car to the hit-and-run incident, Taylor filed complaints or civil suits against virtually every person involved in the case. He would later file two against Railey's estate after his death.

Ennis noted in his report that Taylor has a long history of filing dozens of federal and state lawsuits against police officers who issued speeding tickets, judges who signed warrants, people who offended him or complained of his behavior, and others he alleged defamed him by complaining of inappropriate behavior.

More than two years after Railey towed Taylor's car, the tow truck operator was walking from a diesel fuel pump at a Hamilton service station on Feb. 13, 2004, when a vehicle accelerated into the man with such force it tossed him over the store's roof line and back onto the ground.

As some witnesses called for an ambulance and attended to the badly injured man, witness Keith Hammond followed Taylor's car and called 911 to summon police.

Meanwhile, Taylor was calling 911 to have the operator dispatch patrol cars to Railey's Auto Body and Wrecker Service -- not to the J&A Tire Shop where the crime occurred.

Police, however, responded to Hammond's call and arrested Taylor.

The impact of the automobile broke the smaller, outer bone in Railey's lower right leg in multiple places. He died 16 days later due to cardiac arrest, which an autopsy showed was caused by blood clots that traveled through his veins and blocked the flow of blood to his lungs.

The assault charge against Taylor was elevated to murder.

Before there was a trial

Almost six months after he was arrested, doctors attempted to examine Taylor's mental status. At that time, he told the doctors he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and a stress and anxiety disorder beginning at age 18.

During a subsequent examination by Dr. Roger Enfield at Central State Hospital, Taylor at first refused medications and did not believe he needed treatment.

Enfield diagnosed Taylor with undifferentiated schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder and Taylor underwent treatment. After three weeks of antipsychotic medications, he had no signs of psychosis and was able to assist his lawyer in preparing a proper defense, the doctor reported.

But Enfield was unable to form an opinion as to Taylor's criminal responsibility at the time of the offense because Taylor did not want to discuss details of the case and said he didn't want to pursue a mental defense.

The doctor recommended that Taylor continue to take medication as prescribed, but with a warning: "Were he to discontinue medication or otherwise become psychotic, it is recommended that he return to Central State Hospital for further treatment and remain in hospital until trial to prevent repeated psychotic episodes."

When Taylor spoke out at a pre-trial hearing before Judge Doug Pullen, asking for dismissal of charges and sanctions against the prosecutors, Post, the assistant district attorney, told the judge it appeared Taylor had been "off of his medication at the jail for some time" and noted that Enfield was in the courthouse in case a more current mental evaluation of Taylor's competency was needed.

Pullen ordered Enfield to enter the courtroom and observe Taylor's behavior.

Defense attorney Benjamin Davis told Pullen he was concerned that if Taylor at his murder trial uttered anything like what he had said during that hearing, "…he's going to get convicted if that occurs."

But Davis told Pullen he didn't think Taylor would be legally incompetent to stand trial.

When Pullen later attempted to have Taylor raise any points or issues through his attorney, Taylor began talking about the Iraq war and asked the judge to consider his background as a military veteran. (Although a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for one semester, there is no evidence Taylor ever served on active duty or in military combat, Ennis noted in his order.)

Taylor also launched into a disjointed historical explanation concerning judicial history, including topics such as the career of U.S. Sen. Walter F. George; the 1928 presidential candidacy of Al Smith; and the geographical relationship between Pullen's alma mater, Mercer's Walter F. George School of Law, and a monument to U.S. Rep. Carl Benson.

Davis filed no motion for further examination of his client and presented no defense based on his mental competence.

The trial

As prosecutor Post called the state's case for trial, Taylor had already exhibited aberrant behavior, refusing to come to court in civilian clothing rather than jail coveralls, and insisting he be tried in absentia.

When Pullen tried to convince him to change clothes, Taylor told the judge to "keep Mark Post away from me," and dedicated his trial to the memory of U.S. Army Lt. Gen. "Jumpin'" James Maurice Gavin.

A dozen times during the trial, Taylor interrupted proceedings by raising his hand and speaking out -- four times with the jury present.

After Post rested the state's case, Davis also rested the defense's case, having presented no evidence.

Pullen advised Taylor he had a right to testify, or to choose not to, and that it was his personal decision, but if he did testify, he would be subject to cross-examination. Davis told the court he thought testifying "wouldn't be an intelligent decision," but Taylor said he wanted to testify.

The judge advised Taylor his attorney's case strategy was based on the expectation that he would not testify and paused the trial so Taylor and Davis could discuss the issue out of the courtroom. Taylor returned stating he wanted to testify.

In his remarks -- he was allowed to address the jury in a narrative, rather than being directly questioned by his attorney -- Taylor dedicated his testimony to the memory of Adolphus Jenkins, launched into a description of the federal backing of dollar bills, and announced to the jury that the true issues before it were the criminal acts of Hammond, the witness who followed him from the scene of the crime. Hammond was tailgating and speeding, engaged in racial profiling, and he slandered him, filing false charges, he told the jury.

Pullen attempted to have him restrict his testimony to facts in the case, but Taylor's further testimony explored recording artist Gladys Knight, the Rev. James Cleveland, "radical Jewish United States of North American Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks and more.

Davis moved for a mistrial, which Pullen denied.

Continuing, Taylor said Hammond and another prosecution witness, Doug Jeffcoat, should have been arrested for Rainey's murder. Absent their arrest, martial law takes precedence over civilians, he said.

As he concluded, and the prosecution's opportunity to cross-examine him neared, Taylor declared, "…As long as Mark Post stays away from me, I won't hurt him. … Don't you ever say anything to me, boy. Don't you talk to me, boy. Don't you ever talk to me, boy."

When Pullen asked Post if he had any cross-examination, Taylor interrupted: "If he says one thing, your honor, that will be the last thing he says."

Davis renewed his mistrial motion, adding for the first time that Taylor needed to be re-evaluated for competency to stand trial. (Ennis ruled raising the issue of competency -- which Davis thought was without merit -- to seek a mistrial was a violation of standards of trial conduct.)

Pullen denied the motions and directed Post's assistant prosecutor to question Taylor.

A brief attempt by that attorney to question Taylor ended shortly after Taylor ordered the prosecutor to "sit down and get out of my face."

He then cited the Fifth Amendment right of refusal to testify against himself as further questions were asked.

Grounds for reversal

The Georgia Supreme Court had previously found no trial court error and upheld Taylor's conviction and sentence.

Questions as to whether Taylor was in fact competent to stand trial or was insane at the time of the crime were not raised on appeal to the Supreme Court and, by law, cannot later be raised, Ennis wrote.

But the judge focused his decision to overturn the case and return it to Harris County for retrial based on the issues of his defense attorney's ineffectiveness in failing to investigate and present evidence as to Taylor's mental competency to stand trial, and his attorney's failure to adequately investigate a possible insanity defense.

Ennis noted that Davis and Taylor had been classmates in a Columbus State University graduate program in 1992-93, even participating as teammates in a school mock trial competition. They were friends who later worked together on the mayoral campaign of Stephen Hyles, and Davis considered Taylor "one of the best and brightest students at CSU," he said.

Davis was unaware of Taylor displaying signs of mental health issues and came into the case after Taylor's mother contacted him in 2004. Although previous counsel for Taylor had raised questions of his mental competency, Davis believed he had observed no conduct or behavior that would independently lead him to question his client's competency.

But Ennis also noted that case material ranging from Taylor's previous diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and the fact he was under psychiatric care since 1987 -- combined with the 2005 copy of Taylor's evaluation report by Enfield and Davis being made aware that Taylor had stopped taking antipsychotic medications long before trial -- should have alerted him that Taylor was not competent to stand trial.

The man who was polite, cordial and intermittently cooperative and easy to manage while on medication was competent, Ennis wrote, although potential lurked for a return to a psychotic state.

Davis made subjective decisions not to obtain an independent expert for a separate competency evaluation, not to seek an updated evaluation prior to trial, to take no action even after learning Taylor had been off of his medications for some time and to observe his wandering and unfocused remarks in pretrial and in trial testimony episodes.

Davis only moved for a mistrial and asked Pullen for a new competency evaluation after deciding that Taylor's testimony before the jury had lost the trial, leaving a new trial his only chance of success, Ennis wrote.

Taylor, who by the time of his trial testimony had no ability to discern relevance of information and no ability to understand how a jury might negatively perceive his behavior or testimony, was actually unable to assist in his own defense or take guidance from the judge or his own attorney, the judge concluded.

Davis either "ignored or was willfully blind" to many obvious signals that Taylor might not have been competent to stand trial -- a conclusion any reasonable attorney would have formed and raised to the court, Ennis wrote.

The result: Taylor, who was not competent to stand trial, was forced to stand trial due to his attorney's failures to investigate and present evidence of his mental incompetence, Ennis ruled.

The judge also found that Davis' failure to investigate whether Taylor may have been insane at the time of his alleged crimes -- despite historical and ongoing indications of mental illness -- deprived everyone of the opportunity to determine whether he might have been non-responsible for his actions, which would have prohibited a conviction.

By Davis' failures, Taylor was denied assistance of counsel at his trial, Ennis wrote, overturning the conviction and sentence.

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