Monday, September 8, 2008

Murder trial gets weird

Posted By on Mon, Sep 8, 2008 at 8:25 PM

UPDATE: Feds get conviction

Last week, testimony from one of the star witnesses in the federal government's death penalty case against Rejon Taylor, the accused killer of French-born Atlanta restaurateur Guy Luck, took an unexpected turn.

Rejon Taylor

The witness, Sir Jack Matthews, had been indicted along with Taylor and a third man, Joey Marshall. Both Matthews and Marshall pleaded guilty to the murder of Luck, who owned Violette restaurant on Clairmont Road, and they agreed to cooperate.

In exchange for their pleas, the two men would be spared the death penalty. For their cooperation against co-defendant Taylor, they stand the possibility of having their mandatory life sentences reduced.

Marshall took the stand first, two weeks ago, and his testimony was what prosecutors expected. According to Chattanooga's TimesFreePress.com, Marshall described how he, Taylor and Matthews burglarized Luck's upscale home in the months leading up to his death, then — after finding out that Luck was pressing charges against Taylor — kidnapped him and drove him to Tennessee. Shortly after crossing the state line, Matthews and Taylor shot Luck, Marshall said.

Sir Jack Matthews

A week later, however, Matthews gave a version of events that dramatically differed from Marshall's. According to Chattanoogan.com:

Sir Jack Matthews shocked prosecutors on Thursday by completely reversing his earlier statements and saying he, Taylor and Joey Marshall had been on a trip with the restaurant operator to deliver a package of marijuana to a house in Collegedale [Tennessee]. Prosecutor Steve Neff on Friday said that testimony by the government witness was "inherently ridiculous."

But that's not all.

click to enlarge Joey Marshall

TimesFreePress.com reported that Matthews' testimony suggested it was Luck who intended to kill him and Taylor, and not vice versa:

Sir Jack Matthews ... told jurors on the stand last week that the victim actually was a drug-dealing pedophile who willingly had driven with them to Tennessee to drop off marijuana. He testified that they shot Mr. Luck in self defense when he first tried to kill them.

An earlier TimesFreePress.com story went into more detail:

In testimony, Mr. Matthews said he shot Mr. Luck in the arm after the restaurant owner said he was going to kill Mr. Matthews and Mr. Taylor because he knew they had burglarized his home. The threat came, Mr. Matthews said, after he made a comment about pictures in a lockbox that had been stolen from Mr. Luck’s home. ...

Mr. Matthews said he was telling the truth for the first time Wednesday because he didn’t want to bear the burden of Mr. Taylor’s death should the defendant be found guilty and sentenced to death.

“I’m telling you it because I ain’t had peace since the situation,” Mr. Matthews said.

In his closing statement, assistant U.S. attorney Neff said that, even discrediting Matthews' "bizarre science fiction" testimony, there's plenty of evidence to convict Taylor.

Jury began deliberations this afternoon. If Taylor is found guilty, the trial will continue with the death-penalty phase. The Taylor prosecution is the first-ever federal death penalty case brought in the Eastern District of Tennessee.

(Photos: DeKalb County Jail)

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