One of the last people to see a Riverhead High School homecoming queen alive 16 years ago testified Thursday about seeing her in an "animated discussion" with a shorter girl before turning and walking away toward where her body was later found, as the shorter girl trailed close behind.
Judy Karp, now of Manhattan, was able to identify the taller girl as Curtisha Morning, who was found weeks later hacked to death a few dozen yards from where Karp saw them. Although Karp could not identify the other girl, the description she gave matched that of Kalila Taylor, now 35, on trial now for Morning's murder before state Supreme Court Justice William Condon for the second time, after her earlier conviction was reversed by an appellate court in 2004.
Karp said that on Feb. 29, 1996, she was in her car waiting for her boyfriend, a teacher's aide, to come out of the Eastern Suffolk BOCES building in Riverhead when the discussion between Morning and the other girl caught her attention.
Earlier Thursday, this trial survived its own trouble after Condon heard that its first witness, Det. William Rathjen, chatted with a juror and an alternate juror after he finished testifying Wednesday. Condon dismissed them both and reminded the remaining jurors to avoid contact with anyone connected with the case.
Later, Stephanie Trent -- Taylor's cousin and a friend of Morning's -- testified that Taylor was "a little hurt" that the father of her child, Carl Brown Jr., had recently begun dating Morning.
"Her and Curtisha were friendly," Trent said during questioning by Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson. Morning had done Taylor's hair for her senior prom the year before, Trent said. "She felt she [Morning] should have made her aware."
But when defense attorney John LoTurco asked if Taylor was angry about Morning dating Brown, Trent replied, "Not at all."
"Did Kalila make any threats concerning Curtisha?" LoTurco asked.
"Not at all," she replied.
Taylor had several boyfriends besides Brown, Trent said. And in the days after Morning disappeared, Trent said she noticed no cuts on Taylor's hands.
Albertson had told jurors in her opening statement that Taylor likely cut her hand while stabbing Morning more than 90 times in a jealous frenzy. Taylor's DNA was recovered from bloodstains on Morning's pants and boots, Albertson said.