An Atlanta family sat nervously in Chattanooga’s federal courthouse Wednesday, waiting to hear the fate of the young man in their life who could be put to death for a 2003 slaying.
No relief had come by the end of the day, as jurors were unable to reach a consensus on whether 24-year-old Rejon Taylor will receive capital punishment or be allowed to live out his life in prison.
It took the panel less time in mid-September to find Mr. Taylor guilty of first-degree murder, carjacking and kidnapping in the 2003 death of restaurateur Guy Luck just across the Tennessee state line.
“I hope they take more consideration on this than at the trial,” John Taylor, Mr. Taylor’s older brother, said Wednesday morning as the jury was beginning to contemplate the defendant’s future.
Mr. Taylor, 27, expressed sadness over his brother’s situation, but he also clearly was upset over the outcome of the trial and wondered why the government has continued to press for the death penalty. Mr. Taylor’s sister and mother, who have driven from Atlanta to Chattanooga every day to attend the trial since it began Aug. 25, continued Wednesday to decline comment.
“Who’s the justice for? The United States?” John Taylor said. “How can it be justice for the victim and the family if the French don’t even believe in the death penalty?”
The verdict had been preceded by three weeks of testimony in what became the first-ever federal death penalty trial to be held in Eastern Tennessee’s federal courts district.
If the jury chooses to put Mr. Taylor to death, the defendant would join just 50 other federal prisoners now on death row. Normally the domain of state judicial systems, seeking the death penalty in the federal system is rare and reserved only for cases in which the government believes it can prove certain “aggravating” factors such as a “reckless disregard for human life.”
Throughout the first stage of the trial, prosecutors sought to paint Mr. Taylor as a calculated killer who stalked his victim, a French national, for a year before leading the charge to kidnap him from his Atlanta home and put a fatal bullet through his mouth on the side of a secluded Collegedale road.
Mr. Taylor was 19 at the time, and as the 55-year-old victim lay at Erlanger hospital dying from his wound, the teenager already was on his way back to Atlanta, prosecutors said. He would end up dining that summer evening in 2003 at Red Lobster with the victim’s money, they said.
Yet while the two other teenagers implicated in the crime pleaded guilty in 2006 and face life prison sentences themselves, Mr. Taylor has maintained his innocence.
Expressing disappointment in the verdict during recorded telephone conversations made from the Hamilton County Jail, Mr. Taylor referred to the Chattanooga jury as “little redneck-looking folks” who had made a “racist” decision.
The defendant, however, also has expressed his hope of being granted a new trial and the chance to be vindicated one day, despite his defense attorney’s statement to the jury that he likely will “never walk the streets as a free man again.”
The jury is expected to resume its deliberations on Tuesday.