Taylor v. Jordan

Citation10 F.4th 625
Decision Date23 August 2021
Docket NumberNo. 14-6508,14-6508
Parties Victor Dewayne TAYLOR, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Scott JORDAN, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)

ARGUED EN BANC: Dennis J. Burke, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCACY, La Grange, Kentucky, for Appellant. S. Chad Meredith, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF KENTUCKY, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellee. ON SUPPLEMENTAL BRIEF: Dennis J. Burke, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCACY, La Grange, Kentucky, Thomas M. Ransdell, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellant. S. Chad Meredith, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF KENTUCKY, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellee.


KETHLEDGE, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which SUTTON, C.J., and BATCHELDER, COOK, BUSH, LARSEN, NALBANDIAN, READLER, and MURPHY, JJ., joined. MOORE, J. (pp. 641–45), in which CLAY, WHITE, STRANCH, and DONALD, JJ., joined, COLE, J. (pp. 645–51), in which MOORE, CLAY, WHITE, STRANCH, and DONALD, JJ., joined in all but Section I.A.i., GRIFFIN, J. (pp. 651–662), in which GIBBONS, J., joined in full and MOORE, CLAY, WHITE, STRANCH, and DONALD, JJ., joined in all but footnote 1, and WHITE, J. (pp. 662–65), in which MOORE, CLAY, STRANCH and DONALD, JJ., joined in full and GIBBONS, J., joined in Parts I and II, delivered separate dissenting opinions.

KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judge.

Victor Taylor murdered two high-school students in 1984, for which a jury convicted him of capital murder and recommended a sentence of death. The trial judge imposed that sentence and the Kentucky Supreme Court repeatedly denied Taylor's claims for relief. Taylor eventually filed a federal habeas petition, arguing (among many other things) that the prosecutor at his trial had discriminated against African-American members of his venire. The district court denied Taylor's petition. We affirm.


On Saturday, September 29, 1984, Scott Nelson and Richard Stephenson, two 17-year-old students at Trinity High School in Louisville, drove together to a football game at a rival school, Louisville Manual High School. Both students were white. Around 8:30 p.m., they got lost and stopped outside the "Moby Dick" restaurant in Louisville to ask for directions. There they encountered Victor Taylor and his cousin, George Wade, who were then ages 24 and 23, respectively. Taylor and Wade are African-American. After a brief exchange among the four of them, Taylor pulled a gun from his waistband and forced his way into the car's back seat, along with Wade. Taylor told the boys to drive down an alley to an abandoned lot, where he told the boys to get out of the car. Taylor and Wade took the boys’ wallets, which they stripped of cash and then returned. But then Taylor and Wade removed the boys’ pants, tied their hands behind their backs, and gagged them. While the boys lay helpless, Taylor anally raped Nelson. Sometime during this sequence of events, Wade happened to address Taylor by name.

Eventually Taylor and Wade walked away from the scene, taking the boys’ money, pants, jackets, shoes, a gym bag, cassettes, a feather clip, and a portable radio—but leaving the boys alive, though bound and gagged. Soon Taylor told Wade he was worried the boys could identify them, particularly since Wade had used Taylor's name. After a moment, Taylor said "he [i.e. , Taylor] was going to have to take them [i.e. , the boys] out." Taylor then returned to the crime scene. There, one of the boys "tried begging, talking them out of hurting them, that they'd done enough to them already." But Taylor shot them both. Police discovered the boys’ bodies the next day, each of them shot in the head execution-style with a Winchester-Western hollow-point round from a .357 Magnum.

Around 9:30 p.m. that night, Taylor and Wade returned to the home of Taylor's mother. There, several members of Taylor's extended family were present, playing cards. One of them was Eugene Taylor, who said that Taylor and Wade came into the house "smiling" and carrying a gym bag, cassettes, gray tennis shoes, and blue jeans, among other items. Taylor asked his sister, Renee Taylor, whether she had heard about the "white boys" getting killed. Taylor also told Renee—but within earshot of the whole group—"[t]hat he had killed two white boys."

A homicide investigation soon led to Wade, who said that he had participated in the kidnaping but that Taylor had shot the boys. Police then searched the homes of Taylor's mother, Anna Taylor, and sister, Renee. In the home of Taylor's mother, police found the victims’ gym bag and a radio. On Taylor's bed, police also found cassettes (by Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, and Van Halen), initialed "SCN" and belonging to Scott Nelson; under Taylor's bed, police found Nelson's shoes. In Anna Taylor's room, in plain view—though she denied seeing them—police found gray Puma sneakers belonging to Richard Stephenson. Taylor's mother likewise denied seeing Nelson's feather clip, which police found attached to a lamp-wire in plain view in her kitchen. During the search of Renee Taylor's home (in which Taylor also had a bedroom), police found several .357 hollow-point bullets manufactured by Winchester-Western—even though neither Renee nor her husband owned a gun. During that search, police also saw that Renee's husband, Charles Woods, was actually wearing Scott Nelson's blue jeans; Woods told the officer the jeans were "Victor's[.]"

Around that same time, an officer on patrol in the neighborhood saw that Taylor's girlfriend, Shermayne Van Dyke, was wearing Nelson's black jacket. She said that Taylor had told her that he "stole it" from a local shopping mall. Another young woman in the neighborhood, Beverly Shackleford, told police that, the morning after the murders, Taylor had offered to sell her a "green school jacket." She also said that, on three separate occasions in the days after the murders, she had heard Taylor boast about killing the two boys. On the morning of October 4, 1984, the police arrested Taylor.


A grand jury in Jefferson County (where Louisville is located) thereafter indicted Taylor and Wade for kidnapping, robbery, sodomy, and capital murder. Due to extensive coverage of the murders in the local media, the trial court transferred the defendantscases to Fayette County in Lexington. The State chose to try the defendants separately. Wade's trial came first; he received a life sentence.

Jury selection for Taylor's trial began with a venire of 118 people. The trial judge in Taylor's case was African-American; so was the prosecutor. During voir dire, each potential juror (or "venireperson") was questioned individually; counsel for each side could then move to strike the venireperson for cause, or the court might excuse the person on hardship or other grounds. The prosecutor's questions for each potential juror were the same regardless of the person's race. Over the course of voir dire, the defense moved to strike three black venirepersons for cause; the prosecutor opposed every one of those strikes, and the court kept those persons on the venire.

Voir dire ended with 38 persons remaining on the venire, of whom six were African-American. At that point the defense argued that the case should be transferred again to a different venue, given that most of the venirepersons had seen coverage of the Wade trial and that only "32% of the panel" remained. The prosecutor responded that those remaining 38 jurors "are in effect a cross section of the community." In support of that assertion, the prosecutor volunteered to submit into the record a chart that he had recently prepared, listing the name, race, marital status, education level, employment status, and occupation of each of the 38 persons remaining on the venire. The court entered the chart into the record and denied the motion to change venue.

The parties then proceeded to exercise their peremptory strikes, which each side submitted to the court clerk simultaneously. The prosecution was allotted nine strikes, of which it exercised only eight. Four of the eight venirepersons struck by the prosecutor were white, and four black. The defense exercised all 14 of its allotted strikes, one of which was used to strike a black member of the venire. That left 16 potential jurors, one of whom the court later excused for cause. The final panel included 12 jurors and three alternates. Of the 12 jurors, one was African-American—namely Eleanor Fisher, whom the defense had earlier sought to strike for cause.

Five days later, the defense objected again to the jury, arguing that it was "not representative of a cross-section of the community," that "the jury that we have now contains only one minority member," and that the prosecution had used "half of their strikes to exclude two-thirds of minority members left on the panel." That prompted the following exchange between counsel:

Jasmin [prosecutor]: You say I used two-thirds of my strikes to strike minorities?
Jewell [defense counsel]: Half of your strikes to exclude two-thirds of minority members on the panel.
Jasmin: Half, meaning four and a half?
Jewell: You used four—You used eight, I believe, correct?
Jasmin: That's correct.
Jewell: Okay. And, four of them were directed at minority members.
Jasmin: And, for the record, the Commonwealth would note defense also struck at least one or two black folk.
Jewell: The defense struck one minority member.

The prosecutor and court then had the following exchange about the relevant caselaw, including Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), which was then pending at the Supreme Court:

Jasmin: In accordance with case law, the Commonwealth has no other rational reason—if I strike all it then becomes objectionable under the cases from, as I understand it, coming from California.
The Court: The

To continue reading

Request your trial
1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 72 No. 1, September 2021
    • September 22, 2021
    ...509 U.S. 502, 523-24 (1993). (98.) See Flowers v. Mississippi, 139 S. Ct. 2228, 2235 (2019). (99.) Id. (100.) See id.; Taylor v. Jordan, 10 F.4th 625, 663 (6th Cir. 2021) (White, J., dissenting) ("Imagine that a prosecutor approaches voir dire guided by two primary goals, in order of import......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT