Jury selection begins in retrial of 1996 Riverhead murder

NEWS-REVIEW ARCHIVES | The cover of the June 12, 1997 issue featuring Kalila Taylor's arrest.

Jury selection in the retrial of a former Riverhead High School student accused of stabbing another student to death more than a decade ago began yesterday at Suffolk County court.

Kalila Taylor, 35, of Riverhead stands trial for the 1996 murder of fellow student Curtisha Morning, who was stabbed 94 times in the woods behind the high school parking lot.

Ms. Taylor was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

But the State appellate court overturned the conviction in 2004 because the judge, Arthur Pitts, incorrectly instructed the jury to treat the prosecution’s DNA evidence used in the trial as direct evidence instead of circumstantial evidence.

A retrial was ordered, but two years later, County Court Judge Ralph Gazzillo ruled that Ms. Taylor was not mentally fit to stand trial, based on letters sent to the judge which he, at the time, called “bizarre, baseless and delusional.”

She did not use an insanity defense in her original 1999 trial.

In 2010, Ms. Taylor was found to be fit to stand trial. She was offered a plea deal for an 18-years-to-life sentence, but it was rejected, said District Attorney spokesman Robert Clifford.

If acquitted, Ms. Taylor would go free, and if convicted the nearly 14 years she has already spent in jail would count toward any prison term she receives.

Ms. Taylor is currently incarcerated in county jail, Mr. Clifford said. Opening statements will begin after jury selection is finished.

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