Trial Circumstances: Covering the Randy Taylor Murder Trial

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AArDAzwn8M%5D

On May 1, the murder trial began for Randy Taylor, the man charged in the abduction and murder of 17-year-old Alexis Murphy in Nelson County, Va.

My station decided to have many reporters cover this trial, since many people had a role in covering this story since Alexis’ disappearance in August 2013. Alexis is still missing, and there’s no evidence of her death, but prosecutors chose to proceed with a murder charge in a completely circumstantial case.

I covered Days 4 and 5 of this trial. I’ve learned in covering a number of court cases that every judge runs the court differently. Here, as has become a trend in Central Virginia, phones need to be turned off in the courtroom. The judge would not allow anyone to leave the courtroom unless there was a break. He would not allow anyone to enter the courtroom until there was a break. It was a tight ship, and in television news, that’s not convenient.

On Day 4, court ended about 10 minutes before the 5 p.m. newscast. My colleague Rachel Ryan field anchored, and we shared the screen for the day’s proceedings, summarizing the evidence presented — cell phone data and audio interviews investigators had with Taylor leading up to his arrest. The strict courtroom rules didn’t have an impact.

Day 5 was a different story. The defense both began and rested its case with 11 witnesses. Closing arguments took about three hours. And then the case was handed over to the jury, who decided at about 6:15 p.m. that they’d begin their deliberations on Thursday, Day 6. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to leave the courtroom to report that until their decision came down, so Rachel handed it from the field.

I ran outside and, within about three minutes, delivered the report in the video below to summarize the day’s events and give an update about the jury’s decision.

The next day, after seven hours of deliberations, the jury found Taylor guilty in Alexis’ abduction and murder.

Fast forward a few days. I put in an interview request at the regional jail where Taylor is being held until his formal sentencing this summer. It’s not atypical for news outlets to request interviews with defendants in court cases. What is typical is those requests to be denied. But Taylor did not deny my request, only asking that his remarks be shared with other news outlets across the state. Taylor granted me the exclusive interview, and portions of it aired in Lynchburg, Roanoke, Richmond, Virginia Beach and Washington, DC.

My interview continues to draw a lot of criticism, as many people question why the station would give a convicted killer a platform to speak his mind. I’ve given my arguments regarding its newsworthiness, but that’s a debate for later.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftE4QJx-ej0%5D

Overall, in my opinion, the on-air coverage of the Randy Taylor from start to finish gave viewers a well-rounded story from all sides. Is there room for improvement? Of course. But I do believe we offered complete coverage to a story deserving of our best.

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One thought on “Trial Circumstances: Covering the Randy Taylor Murder Trial

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