Suspect in 2018 MLK Grocery killing pleads not guilty. Evidence ‘weak at best,’ attorney says

A 33-year-old accused of shooting and killing a man in the parking lot of MLK Grocery pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning.

Joseph Taylor, 33, was quiet during his probable cause hearing at Recorder’s Court on a murder charge stemming from the June 2018 killing of 30-year-old Rufus J. Mabry Jr.

An arrest warrant for Taylor was obtained last month. He was facing charges in Coweta County for an unrelated incident.

Columbus authorities located him using record searches and a November 2018 tip from a witness.

The witness, however, identified Taylor as “Joseph Jones,” Columbus police Cpl. Zach Cole said at the hearing.

There were about 100 people in the parking lot at the time of the shooting, Cole said.

Cole testified that Taylor was found in possession of a .40 caliber gun in September 2018 that belonged to his girlfriend.

In May 2019, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab found that the ballistics from the gun in Taylor’s possession in 2018 matched the weapon used in Mabry’s killing. Phone records showed that Taylor was close to the scene at the time of the shooting, and a security guard at a nearby nightclub saw Taylor that night, Cole testified.

Fingerprints weren’t recovered from the gun, and a possible motive wasn’t given during Wednesday’s hearing.

Mark Shelnutt, Taylor’s attorney, called the evidence “very, very weak at best” and questioned the credibility of the witness.

“All of a sudden, several months go by … and this person calls up and said Joseph Jones did this killing,” he said. “The (witness) gives a wrong name months later and he’s obviously trying to help himself. ...He had a pending case.”

The witness was not identified in court.

Taylor’s case will move to Muscogee County Superior Court.