Court rejects new trial in double murder case

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky death row inmate condemned for
the rape and murder of two Louisville high school students in 1984 lost his bid for a new trial Thursday after the state Supreme Court ruled a judge properly handled a DNA testing issue.

The Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Victor Dewayne
Taylor is not entitled to a hearing, even though prosecutors may have violated a court order in testing and destroying DNA samples from his case. Taylor sought a new trial after a judge declined to grant him a hearing following the tests.

Taylor, 49, was convicted in 1986 of sodomizing and killing 17-year-old Trinity High School student Scott Nelson and his friend, 17-year-old Richard Stephenson, after the pair became lost looking for a football game Sept. 29, 1984. A co-defendant, George Ellis Wade, 46, is serving a life sentence for his role in the slayings.

A circuit judge issued an order aimed at preventing any testing of slides of DNA samples in Taylor's case until the method of testing could be resolved. Prosecutors tested one slide anyway. The results in Taylor's case, the first returned since Kentucky started allowing DNA tests for some death row inmates, were inconclusive.

Taylor, who is being held at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, contended that both slides should have been available for testing and, because they weren't, he was entitled to a hearing and possibly a new trial. A circuit judge turned down his request for a hearing.

The justices rejected Taylor's argument.

"Taylor cannot establish under the statute that even if he had both slides available for DNA testing under his preferred method, that he would have been able to establish anything more than a mere possibility - as opposed to the reasonable probability required under the statute - of exculpatory evidence," Justice Mary Noble wrote for the court.

Taylor's attorney, assistant public advocate Thomas Ransdell, said no decision has been made about whether to request a rehearing before the high court. Shelley Catherine Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Attorney General's office, declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said prosecutors are pleased with the ruling.

Since Taylor's test results were returned in 2008, at least two other inmates have also received inconclusive results and have appealed their cases to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Kentucky's law allows condemned inmates to request genetic testing of evidence in cases that predate the use of DNA testing. Taylor's attorneys sought the DNA tests to determine if Taylor or Wade raped the student before the killings. Wade is serving a life sentence at East Kentucky Correctional Institute in West Liberty after being found guilty of murder, but acquitted of sodomy.

The case became known as the "Trinity Murders," picking up its name from where Nelson and Stephenson went to high school.

Wade told police that it was Taylor who pulled the trigger, though he did not testify at trial. Taylor's lawyers, in court filings, now say Wade would testify that Taylor wasn't present at the killings.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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