Artwork suit set convict on path toward escape

Man guilty of 3 attempted murders was en route to argue case when he fled

February 28, 2010|By Peter Hermann |

Raymond Taylor seemed to enjoy writing letters from his prison cell at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland in the far western reaches of Maryland.

He argued that the judge made a mistake when sentencing him to three consecutive life terms in prison for shooting his ex-girlfriend and her two teen-age daughters in August 2004. He wanted his sentence reconsidered but abruptly changed his mind and asked that a hearing be delayed so he had more time to prove himself.

He started one hand-printed letter to the judge, "How you doing?" and signed off another to the same jurist, "Thanks a lot, I appreciate it," even though his request was summarily denied.

The prolific Taylor expressed remorse for the shootings and described his devotion to the woman he shot and how devastated he was when she left him. He told of his attempts to reform and get educated, described abuse he said he suffered as a child and how he grew up with eight children but an absent father.

But then, Taylor put pen to paper to write a different manuscript - a lawsuit.

And that is what catapulted him toward a wild and ultimately failed escape attempt that began Thursday when, while in transit to a court hearing on the lawsuit, he conned his way out of custody by convincing a soon-to-be-released cellmate to switch photo ID badges. It would end 34 hours later when he was found hiding in West Virginia.

Taylor had sued a woman on the Eastern Shore named Lavern Jackson for civil damages, claiming she had solicited drawings from him of Shrek and Garfield to sell at a flea market, but then never deposited the promised $685 into his prison bank account.

Prison officials were driving him the 256 miles from Cumberland so he could stand up in court and press his claim.

During a stopover in Baltimore, authorities said he found himself in a cell with William Johnson, another inmate who was hours away from being released after serving two years for burglary. Somehow, police said, Taylor persuaded Johnson to switch IDs. Prison officials, after passing him through three more security checks, sent him to freedom onto East Madison Street.

Police caught him hiding in a closet at a friend's house in West Virginia on Friday, but by then his successful ruse had captured a national television audience and forced embarrassed prison officials to admit to a "series of errors" and prompted a review of procedures and staff that could lead to firings.

Taylor, being held in West Virginia as he awaits extradition back to Maryland, is described by authorities as violent and unrepentant. But his attorney in the shootings cases calls him a "very articulate, very intelligent" man who became obsessed with his girlfriend and her children.

He was born in New York's Harlem and moved with his mother to Ohio when he was 7. He bounced from houses in Virginia and Maryland and back to New York, raised by his mother until he was 16 and then by his grandmother. In a pre-sentencing report filed in court, he described a "crazy childhood" in which he said he was abused by a family friend, experimented with marijuana and suffered from a learning disability that forced him into special education classes at school.

The pretrial investigator, Patricia Joyner, described Taylor as "a loner who did not make friends easily" and who was "easily misled, immature, impressionable and gullible." He never went beyond the ninth grade in school, never held down a job, drank heavily on the weekends and has felony convictions for stealing cars in West Virginia and stealing a woman's purse in New York City.

His mother, Robin Taylor, told the investigator that she introduced her son to his girlfriend, Tammie Johnson, but didn't expect him to fall in love. He was 22, she was 36. The first meeting, the mother told the court official, "was not for romantic purposes." She did not approve of the relationship.

But Taylor, in his own writings to the judge, described Johnson as "like no other woman I ever met before" and that he had "fallen deeply in love with her."They dated for four months before Johnson called it off and a devastated Taylor, in Johnson's Pentland Drive rowhouse in Northeast Baltimore, lined up Johnson and her two daughters against the headboard of a bed and shot each execution-style in the head and chest with a .22 caliber revolver.

All three survived and, after Taylor pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted murder, they came to court and spoke passionately at his sentencing hearing on June 23, 2005. Taylor's attorney at the time, Margaret Mead, said her client had expected to be sentenced within guidelines, no more than 50 years.

But Circuit Judge Joseph P. McCurdy, after hearing from the victims, exceeded the guidelines and sentenced Taylor to three consecutive life terms in prison. It was far more time than even prosecutors had sought. Mead described the emotional, drawn-out hearing as one of the most painful she had ever witnessed.

"It was horrific," she recalled on Friday.

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