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Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Robert Taylor Murder Case

     At eight-thirty in the morning of September 11, 2008, 52-year-old Robert Taylor called 91l to report the downing of his 63-year-old wife in their south Manatee County, Florida swimming pool. From 1994 to 2007 Mr. Taylor had been a Manatee County Sheriff's Office corrections deputy. He had met his wife Pamela in 2004. She had been a nurse at an assisted living facility and at the Manatee County Jail.

     Sheriff's deputies responding to the 911 call found Pamela Taylor lying at the edge of the pool. Robert Taylor said he had gone to bed around midnight and when he got up that morning found his wife floating face-down in the water. Although Taylor said he had just pulled his wife's body out of the deep end, his clothes and shoes were not wet. When the first officer arrived at the scene, Mr. Taylor, with his dead wife's body sprawled out beside the swimming pool, was making himself breakfast. While investigators suspected foul play the case wasn't seriously investigated and Robert Taylor was not charged with causing his wife's death.

     In December 2010, medical examiner Dr. Russell Vega ruled Pamela Taylor's death a homicide by drowning. (Since Dr. Vega conducted an autopsy it can be assumed that Pamela's body had been exhumed, and that the initial autopsy had been performed by someone who had ruled the death accidental or undetermined. It's even possible there was no initial autopsy.) The delayed manner of death ruling was followed by a criminal investigation which in turn led to Robert Taylor's arrest on February 8, 2011. Charged with second-degree murder he was booked into the Manatee County lockup a few days later. (He was later transferred to the Sarasota County Jail.) Since the suspect had not confessed and there were no eyewitnesses to his wife's drowning the case against him was circumstantial.

     The Taylor murder trial got underway in Bradenton, Florida on May 1, 2012. Prosecutor Art Brown put the medical examiner, Dr. Russell Vega, on the stand. Dr. Vega testified that the drowning victim had bruises on her legs, fractured ribs and a large contusion on her skull. Because the water was only five foot six inches deep at its deepest, Mrs. Taylor could have tip-toed out of the deep end.

     Ruth Mueller, a neighbor, told the jury that on the night of the drowning she heard Mr. and Mrs. Taylor yelling at each other. Next came a sound consistent with a body hitting cement, then the sound of gurgling water. On one occasion Mrs. Taylor had come to Mr. Mueller's house with a bruised and bloodied face. The witness cleaned her wounds and escorted her back to her kitchen where Mueller saw blood stains on the wall. "Robert," she said, "look what you've done to your wife." He didn't respond.

     Another neighbor, Eric Barr, took the stand and said that just days before the drowning Mrs. Taylor, in referring to the defendant, had said, "He's going to kill me." When the witness asked Mr. Taylor to "chill out," the defendant threatened his life.

     On Wednesday, May 2, 2012 the prosecutor played a video-tape of the police interrogation of the suspect conducted shortly after his arrest. The defendant said that he had last seen his wife at 8:15 on the evening of her death. He had been playing a computer game and she had complained that his chair was making noise. This led to an argument. According to Taylor, his wife had been drinking sherry and scotch, was drunk and was in a "nasty" mood. (At the time of her death the victim's blood-alcohol level was twice the driving legal limit of .08 percent.) The next day, when the defendant got up at eight he heard dogs barking out by the swimming pool. That's when he found his wife floating face-down in the water.

     Jennifer Fury, the defense attorney, did not put the defendant on the stand. Because the prosecution's case was circumstantial, attorney Fury argued that the state had not proven her client's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. (The case was being tried before an eight-person jury.)

     The lawyers made their closing arguments on the morning of May 4. 2012. Defense attorney Fury asked to jury to consider Pamela Taylor's death a tragic accident. The intoxicated, older woman had tripped over a garden hose and had fallen, unconscious, into the pool and drowned. The prosecution, the defense attorney said, had no direct evidence proving that Robert Taylor had caused her death.

     Prosecutor Brown presented the death as an intentional homicide motivated by money. After Mrs. Taylor's death the defendant received a $180,000 life insurance payout. Two weeks before killing his wife the defendant tried to take out another life insurance policy, but the premium check he sent to the insurance company bounced.

     The jury, after deliberating less than three hours found Robert Taylor guilty of second-degree murder. The judge sentenced the 56-year-old to twenty years in prison.

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