In the spring of 2003, French-born Atlanta restaurateur Guy Luck met with a DeKalb County detective regarding a recent burglary at his home. The suspect, 19-year-old Rejon Taylor, had been caught trying to buy high-end electronics with a credit card obtained in someone else's name. Back at Taylor's apartment, investigators discovered 40 more credit cards in that person's name — as well as a briefcase and checks that belonged to another of his apparent victims, Luck (pronounced LUKE).
The detective asked Luck if he wanted to press charges. He did. Little did he know that his decision would cost him his life – and set into motion a chain of events that culminated in a federal death penalty trial that opened in Chattanooga last week.
The trial is expected to last six weeks, and it marks the first-ever capital case to be brought in the Eastern District of Tennessee. Federal death penalty cases are rare. But prosecutors claim the substantial premeditation and planning that precipitated Luck's death – the details of which are described in more than 600 filings in the case – qualifies Taylor for the ultimate penalty.
After Taylor was arrested on the credit card charge, he and two partners in crime, 18-year-old Joey Marshall and 19-year-old Sir Jack Matthews, allegedly burglarized Luck's house again. For two years, the trio was believed to have targeted upscale homes in and around Buckhead, first stealing mail to obtain credit cards, and later venturing inside the houses – some of them repeatedly.
When they returned to Luck's house, they found paperwork that revealed he was pursuing burglary charges against Taylor. Prosecutors allege that it was Taylor's idea to retaliate. In his ongoing pursuit of Luck, Taylor learned that Luck owned a restaurant called Violette, and Taylor had the audacity to dine there.
When Luck was in his 30s, he owned several restaurants in the Alsace region of France. In 1985, a year shy of his 40th birthday, he moved to Atlanta and decided to build a restaurant that evoked those he'd opened across the Atlantic. The breezy space features soaring ceilings, crisp white tablecloths, a stone fireplace and such French staples as coq au vin and canard a l'orange.
Prosecutors would later allege that Taylor, after glancing at Luck's menu, surmised the restaurateur had money – and perhaps a large wad of cash on hand.
At that point, Taylor allegedly hatched a scheme. He, Marshall and Matthews would rob and carjack Luck, drive him far from home, and leave him stranded on the side of the road. Perhaps that would persuade Luck not to pursue the burglary case.
Taylor's defense team later would claim that no one intended for Luck to die. Still, when the three men drove Taylor's parents' Impala to Luck's home on the morning of Aug. 6, 2003, they brought with them two guns: a 9 mm packed with birdshot and a .38.
When Luck stepped out of his house, Matthews allegedly jumped him. He ushered Luck into his own Econoline van. Taylor climbed into the van's driver's seat. Marshall followed them in the Impala.
The caravan headed up I-75, crossing the Tennessee line and exiting at the Chattanooga suburb of Collegedale. Marshall didn't know what was going on from his vantage point in the Impala – not until the van swerved off the road, and Taylor and Matthews scurried out. Matthews was covered in blood.
Minutes earlier, Luck had made a grab for Matthews' gun. Matthews responded by shooting him. The birdshot from the 9 mm struck Luck's elbow and face. When Matthews tried to squeeze off another shot, the gun jammed. Luck then lunged for Taylor, in the driver's seat. Taylor swung around and fired three rounds. Luck was hit in his other arm, his shoulder and his mouth. One of the bullets passed through him and struck Matthews.
An eyewitness watched as the two young men raced out of the truck and into the Impala, which sped off. By then, Luck, too, had stumbled out of the van. During a helicopter ride to the hospital, he managed to describe that he'd been carjacked and shot by two men. Hours later, he died.
When the Impala reached Atlanta, Taylor dropped Matthews off at Grady Memorial Hospital. Matthews concocted a story about how he came to be shot, but investigators weren't buying it. After he was treated for his injuries, Matthews was arrested.
A week later, a DeKalb County patrol officer conducting a routine check at Fork Creek Mountain Park discovered an abandoned Impala that fit the description of a murder suspect's car – a description that had been issued during that week's roll call. The car's interior had been completely stripped, including the seats. It was registered to Taylor's parents.
Soon after, Marshall turned himself in to authorities. But three more months passed before investigators caught up with Taylor. They found him in a northeast Atlanta apartment. He was inside a refrigerator, clutching a knife.
Two years later, after the trio was charged in federal court for a heinous murder that crossed state lines -- and after the government indicated it would seek the death penalty -- Taylor came up with another plan. He, Marshall and two other inmates (though not Matthews) began to arrange a jailbreak.
Over the course of several months, Taylor and Marshall paid for extra sheets, which they tied into a rope and stashed in the ceiling of the jail. Taylor also traded candy to other inmates in exchange for homemade shanks, which he also stored in the ceiling. During phone calls with his mother, Taylor asked her to arrange a ride for him and his fellow escapees.
On April 14, 2006, two inmates – allegedly acting on Taylor's orders – attacked a guard with the shanks. They attempted to wrest his keys from him. But they failed.
That same day, Taylor's mother rented a van and drove from Atlanta to Chattanooga. She later was indicted in federal court for her alleged effort to help her son escape.
Months after the escape attempt, in fall 2006, Marshall and Matthews pleaded guilty to their charges, as a way to be spared the death penalty. As part of their plea, they agreed to cooperate in the case against Taylor. Depending on their level of cooperation, the two men could be permitted to serve less than the mandatory life sentence.
Last week, according to Chattanoogan.com, Marshall made good on his promise. During his tearful testimony on the second day of the trial, he described what happened the day Luck was killed – including what Matthews told Taylor when, minutes after shooting Luck, they climbed into the Impala.
"You're a soldier," Marshall recalled Matthews saying. "You busted him."
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