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2nd trial set in 16-year-old murder case

It's been more than 16 years since Riverhead High School homecoming queen Curtisha Morning was slain outside her high school -- stabbed at least 96 times in a rage-fueled frenzy -- and the woman charged with the crime is about to go on trial for a second time.

Kalila Taylor, now 35, was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999, but an appellate court overturned the verdict in 2004 because of faulty jury instructions. Since then, however, she has struggled to maintain a grip on reality.

Until late last year, many psychiatrists and judges said her paranoid schizophrenia made her unfit to stand trial. She wrote many letters insisting she was framed by a detective who used a device that cloned people from snakes. She said it wasn't Morning who was killed, but a clone, and that Taylor's own clone could be responsible for the murder.

Because of those delusions, defense attorney John LoTurco said Taylor has spent the past seven years going back and forth between the Suffolk County Jail and the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center, in upstate New Hampton. After treatment and heavy medication, she has been found competent to stand trial again before state Supreme Court Justice William Condon.

Opening statements could take place this week.

"This is a particularly violent murder, and a particularly senseless murder," said Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson, who won the conviction in 1999 and will try the case again. "This case has stayed with me throughout the years. The defendant should be held accountable for her actions."

It is a different atmosphere than that first trial, however. Then, the Morning and Taylor families clashed angrily in courthouse hallways. Taylor testified in that trial, sparring vigorously with Albertson. She won't testify in this one, LoTurco said.

|done/fddShe has been noticeably placid during jury selection.

"She understands the trial process," LoTurco said. "On the other hand, she remains subdued, passive, appears to be disconnected."

LoTurco said Taylor has decided not to raise her mental issues, so they will challenge the evidence at trial. "She's looking for finality," he said, adding that she doesn't wish to return to Mid-Hudson. He said there is "a delicate balance of communicating with Kalila," because although she is competent, she still has mental health issues.

The basic facts of the case remain. Authorities say Taylor killed Morning because the father of Taylor's child, Carl Brown Jr. II, had begun showing a romantic interest in Morning. The prosecution again will present witnesses saying they saw Morning arguing with a girl who looked like Taylor shortly before Morning disappeared Feb. 29, 1996. And the defense again will highlight that no murder weapon was recovered and Taylor never confessed.

Because of advances in DNA testing, some evidence will be stronger. In 1999, prosecutors argued drops of Taylor's blood were found on Morning's boots. Now they can say it was found on clothing as well.

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