WARNING: The following story contains graphic details about domestic violence.
A Friday Harbor man whose murder conviction was overturned in August has been found not guilty after a month-long retrial.
“It’s a very surprising turnaround. But it’s not unheard of in law and these kinds of things happen,” said San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randall Gaylord.
In June 2019, a San Juan County Superior Court jury found Kevin Patrick Taylor, now 58, guilty of both felony murder for the bludgeoning death of his wife Julie Taylor, 56, as well as arson for starting a fire in her car the same night as her murder in 2016. The jury returned special determinations that it was a crime of domestic violence and that the death occurred with a firearm. It was the first San Juan County jury trial in a murder case since the 1985 trial for the murder of Lopez resident Rolf Neslund.
Kevin Taylor was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His attorneys filed an appeal after the conviction. In August 2021, the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled that because one of the expert witnesses for the state, psychologist Dr. Jenna Tomei, made statements during direct examination that she was cautioned not to say, the defendant earned the right to a new trial.
“It was a question about Mr. Taylor’s responses to the police officer at the scene and whether they were appropriate (in relation to his state of mind). She said ‘Yes, he asked for an attorney.’ It was immediately caught. The state is not allowed to present evidence or testimony that a person asked for an attorney because it’s a Constitutional right,” explained Gaylord. “It was a slip of the tongue and quite incidental and corrected by the court at the time. But the court of appeals found otherwise and ruled that we had to go through a new trial.”
The prosecutor’s office charged Kevin Taylor again with two counts of Murder in the Second Degree-Domestic Violence and one count of Malicious Mischief in the First Degree–DV. The jury selection and new trial took place from Oct. 7 through Nov. 4. The jury was comprised of 12 men and women from San Juan, Orcas and Lopez and deliberated for eight hours.
Kevin Taylor was represented by Rachel Forde and Kelly Canary of the Snohomish County Public Defender’s Office. His attorneys argued that while murdering his wife he was suffering from “postictal psychosis,” which occurs after a cluster of epileptic seizures. They argued he didn’t have his condition properly controlled by medication.
“Kevin is grateful that the jurors carefully listened to the medical evidence in the case,” Forde said. “He is happy to be home with his sister and his son. It’s been a huge adjustment and a new wave of grieving Julie as he adjusts to life outside of prison. Obviously, it’s not easy to come back into a small community where so many people have strong feelings both in support of him and having trouble welcoming him back.”
Gaylord said the verdict was “stunning.”
“The jury accepted the defense’s theory that he killed his wife but he did so in a state of mind such that he should be acquitted of a crime,” he said. “They focused on the mental side. Which they did in the previous case too but times have changed in two years and it’s a different group of people. Mr. Taylor was released from the courtroom and left the building free of any conditions.”
Gaylord hopes the San Juan County community honors the victim and her family.
“I want to recognize Julie, who died. She is survived by two sons, a sister and two brothers. They are extremely saddened by what happened on the night of Sept. 3. And they are heartbroken by the jury’s verdict from what I can see,” he said. “I am also proud of the prosecutor’s side — it’s a big effort for a small office. Thank you to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Amy Vira and Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Teresa Barnett.”
According to court documents, San Juan County dispatch received a call from someone in the Taylors’ Friday Harbor residence at 1 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2016. A deputy arrived on the scene 20 minutes later and found Julie Taylor lying near an open doorway, not moving and with a large pool of blood around her head.
A motorcycle helmet and cat food cans partially covered her face. A .22 rifle broken into pieces lay scattered around her head along with a broken potted plant. Blood spatter covered the adjoining cabinet, walls and ceiling.
Kevin Taylor was sitting nearby on a couch, and stated to the deputy, “I got her.” He was placed under arrest.
After claiming that his wife had poisoned him, Kevin Taylor was transported to Peace Island Medical Center to be evaluated by emergency room staff. He was medically cleared and booked into San Juan County Jail.
The Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team responded a few hours later to assist San Juan County in its investigation. The team collected blood samples and used a 3D imaging camera to photograph the scene.
Officers discovered notes on the kitchen counter that said: “I don’t feel a heartbeat, I win!! Bitch,” “I hope she died,” “She forgot to kiss me goodbye,” “She told me too soon,” and “I win.”
The victim was taken to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office where an autopsy was conducted. The autopsy determined that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head delivered from the butt of the rifle found at the scene.
The Taylors had been married for 25 years.