Kalila Taylor rejects court offer of 18 to life in jail

06/09/2010 12:00 AM |

Kalila Taylor, the Riverhead woman whose 1999 murder conviction was overturned in 2004,  only to have the courts declare her unfit to take the stand on her retrial two years later, rejected a court offer Wednesday that would have sentenced her to 18 years to life in prison, according to her attorney, John Loturco.
Instead, she now seeks to go to trial on the case,  he said, although she must still undergo another set of psychiatric exams.
“The back end of the 18-to-life term is still life in prison,” he said in an interview. “She would prefer to go to trial.”
Ms. Taylor, who was accused of stabbing 17-year-old Riverhead High School student Curtisha Morning 94 times in 1996 in the woods behind the high school parking lot, has been in jail since her arrest in June 1997. She is now 33 years old. Ms. Morning’s body wasn’t found for a month after she was first reported missing.
Ms. Taylor was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and sentenced to 25 years to life in, following a trial in which prosecutors used extensive DNA evidence to link her to the crime.
But in 2004, the State appellate court overturned the conviction on the grounds that the judge, Arthur Pitts, had incorrectly directed the jury to consider the DNA evidence as direct evidence instead of circumstantial evidence, and ordered a retrial.
However, in 2006, County Court Judge Ralph Gazzillo ruled that Ms. Taylor was not mentally fit to stand trial, and the retrial was pushed back.
That ruling was based on letters sent to the judge which he, at the time, called “bizarre, baseless and delusional.”
But Ms. Taylor was found fit to stand trial earlier this year, according to Bob Clifford,  a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota.
Mr. Loturco, said that over the past few years, experts from the state have consistently argued that Ms. Taylor is competent to stand trial, but experts for the defense have found that she is not competent.
“I have to get over the hurdle of her competency first,” Mr. Loturco said. “Because if she cannot assist me, how can I defend her?”
Ms. Taylor recently has been jailed in the Mid-Hudson Correctional Facility, which is a jail that provides psychiatric treatment. If she were to be found competent, and sentenced again to 25-to-life, she likely would  be jailed in a maximum security jail like Bedford Hills, where she was previously, and would not receive treatment, he said.
“Her family wants her to get the psychiatric treatment she needs,” Mr. Loturco said. “They feel she will not get that in a maximum security jail.”
Mr. Loturco said Ms. Taylor has exhibited signs of having paranoid schizophrenia since she’s been in jail. She did not use an insanity defense in her trial in 1999.
The 18-years-to-life offer was originally made by Judge Gazillo several years ago and was offered again by the present judge, C. Randall Hinrichs Wednesday, according to Mr. Clifford. It was rejected both times, said Mr. Loturco.
He said the only difference between an 18-to-life term and a 25-to-life term is that she’d be eligible for parole sooner.
If Ms. Taylor were to go to trial and be acquitted, she would be free, and her family could then decide what type of treatment she needs, Mr. Loturco said.
The nearly 12 years she has already spent in jail would count toward any prison term she receives.
Relatives of Ms. Morning could not be reached for comment.
tgannon@timesreview.com

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