The passage of 16 years since a Riverhead High School homecoming queen was hacked to death on school grounds has not weakened the case against the woman charged with the murder, a Suffolk prosecutor told jurors Monday.
The scientific evidence is strong, Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson told jurors in her opening statement at the second trial of Kalila Taylor, now 35. She was convicted of killing Curtisha Morning, 17, in 1999, but an appellate court overturned the verdict in 2004 because of faulty jury instructions.
"The evidence in this case can and does and it always will consistently and continuously point to the killer, Kalila Taylor," said Albertson, pointing at Taylor.
Similarly, Albertson said, the years have not weakened the memories of witnesses who saw Morning arguing with a woman who resembled Taylor shortly before Morning was stabbed more than 90 times in a wooded area hidden from view.
Defense attorney John LoTurco told jurors that police always assumed Taylor was guilty and never investigated anyone else.
"They can point fingers all they want -- that's what prosecutors do, point fingers -- but they have to prove it," LoTurco said before state Supreme Court Justice William Condon. He emphasized that Taylor has always insisted she didn't do it.
Members of the Morning and Taylor families watched the trial's start in a packed courtroom. Unlike in the first trial, they kept their distance from each other. Morning's mother, Viola Morning, tearfully declined to comment. "It's too much right now," she said.The apparent source of the dispute came two weeks before, on Valentine's Day 1996, when Morning received balloons from Carl Brown Jr. II, the father of Taylor's child. After the argument, it was five weeks before Morning's body was found, hidden beneath leaves and brush against a chain-link fence.
"There were obvious signs of overkill," Albertson said -- dozens of knife wounds just on the back of her neck and head alone, but also others to her face, back, hands and legs.
"It's consistent with jealous rage," Albertson said.
Taylor's DNA was found in blood stains on Morning's jeans and boots, and on a piece of discarded clothing probably used to wipe off the knife, Albertson said.
The trial's first witness, Det. William Rathjen, used crime-scene photos to show how the body was well-hidden by leaves and brush when it was found weeks later.
He also showed jurors photos of some of the stab wounds on her neck and head.
Moments later, after he finished for the day and as jurors were leaving the courtroom, Taylor turned and smiled as she recognized some of her family members.