A 24-year-old convicted killer from Atlanta who faces the death penalty called the Chattanooga jurors who will decide his fate a bunch of “racist rednecks,” telephone records show.
Rejon Taylor made the remark during one of several recorded phone calls from the Hamilton County Jail after an 18-member jury, which includes two blacks, found him guilty early last week of murder, kidnapping and carjacking in the 2003 killing of an Atlanta restaurant owner in Collegedale.
“These calls are significant, very significant. It’s a scary look into the heart of someone,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Neff said during a hearing Tuesday, trying to convince a federal judge to allow jurors to listen to the calls during the sentencing phase of Mr. Taylor’s trial.
“We’re going to be asking the jury to sentence (Mr. Taylor) to death, and this is one of the reasons why,” Mr. Neff said. “(The calls) prove his complete lack of remorse.”
In her objection, defense attorney Leslie Cory called the recordings “highly prejudicial,” and she claimed the introduction of them so late in the game violated the rules of evidence in federal criminal trial procedure.
“It’s a mind-boggling endeavor” to try to sift through all the calls at the last minute, she said, and will involve “revising our entire strategy” for proving to the jury why Mr. Taylor does not deserve to be put to death.
As a result of the arguments, U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier postponed the beginning of Mr. Taylor’s sentencing hearing until Monday, when the defense and prosecution are expected to argue the relevance of the phone calls.
Once Judge Collier rules on the issue, the defense plans to present mitigating evidence on behalf of Mr. Taylor for at least five days, including testimony from his friends and family and possibly Mr. Taylor himself.
In addition to the remarks about the jury during the calls, Mr. Taylor expressed shallow dismay at his portrayal in the media, Mr. Neff said.
“His biggest concern is what picture the newspaper is going to put in of him the next day,” Mr. Neff said as the defendant sat expressionless, surrounded by his four defense attorneys.
Mr. Taylor also talks about “what is above him and below him” in Chattanooga’s federal court building on Georgia Avenue, where the trial proceedings continue to take place, Mr. Neff said. That proves what prosecutors believe to be yet another attempt by Mr. Taylor to escape custody, he said.
Authorities previously caught Mr. Taylor trying to escape from the Hamilton County Jail in 2006. That jailbreak attempt involved four other inmates.
“Jail isn’t that bad,” Mr. Taylor also apparently says during one call, which Mr. Neff said significantly undermines what defense attorneys plan to tell the jury — that a life prison sentence would be worse for their client than being killed by the federal government.
Mr. Taylor’s guilty verdict came after a dramatic three-week federal death penalty trial during which jurors heard the tale of how he and two friends — all teenagers at the time — graduated from robbing mailboxes in Atlanta’s wealthy Buckhead neighborhood to the interstate kidnapping and murder of one of their identity-theft victims.
Guy Luck, a 51-year-old Atlanta restaurant owner and French national, was found with a gunshot wound to his mouth and clinging to life the morning of Aug. 6, 2003, inside a van on a quiet road in Collegedale. He was taken to Erlanger hospital, where he died later that day.
At that point, Mr. Taylor and codefendants Joey Marshall and Sir Jack Matthews already were speeding south on Interstate 75 to Atlanta, prosecutors said, and they would dine that evening at Red Lobster with some of the victim’s stolen cash.
But while Mr. Marshall and Mr. Matthews pleaded guilty in 2006 for their roles in the crime, prosecutors say the defendant, who was found hiding naked in a refrigerator two months after Mr. Luck’s death, continues to dodge responsibility five years after the killing.