A 36-year-old man and the gunman he hired were convicted Monday of two counts of murder and other charges for the 2001 contract killings of his girlfriend and her unborn son outside the woman’s Hawthorne apartment.
Prosecutors said Derek Paul Smyer arranged for 27-year-old Crystal Taylor to be killed because she refused to have an abortion.
A six-man, six-woman jury found Smyer guilty of second-degree murder for Taylor’s killing; first-degree murder of the fetus, named in the complaint as Jeremiah Johnson Taylor; two counts of solicitation of murder; and one count of conspiracy to commit a crime.
Jurors also found true a special circumstance allegation of financial gain as to the fetus’ murder, but not true for Taylor’s killing, and a special allegation of multiple murders.
Smyer, who did not move as the verdicts were read, is set to be sentenced June 1 and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A separate jury of eight women and four men found Skyler Jefferson Moore, 35, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy. The panel also found true special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and multiple murders, as well as several gun allegations.
Moore — who is already serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole for an unrelated 2001 killing — faces a possible death sentence. The penalty phase of his trial is set to begin Wednesday.
The two sets of jurors began deliberations Thursday and alerted the courtroom late Monday morning of their decisions, which were reached nearly simultaneously.
Smyer’s defense attorney, Calvin Schneider III, said he planned to file an appeal based on the court’s exclusion of evidence he said pointed to another perpetrator.
“I think it’s clear that somebody else committed the crime,” Schneider said. “I’m disappointed that the jurors didn’t find that there was reasonable doubt.”
Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers told City News Service she understood the jury’s decision to find Smyer guilty of second-degree murder for the mother’s killing and first-degree for the killing of her baby-to-be.
“The intent was to kill the baby,” Meyers said. “The premeditation went toward killing that baby.”
Smyer was arrested and charged with murder a decade after the Sept. 25, 2001, killings of Taylor and her unborn son. An earlier jury deadlocked in August, leading to a mistrial.
Following the reading of the verdict Monday, Deputy District Attorney Rosa Zavala said it had been a “long-fought battle” but “Crystal has never been forgotten.”
Prosecutors said Smyer and Moore met at the basketball courts at Anderson Park in Redondo Beach. Moore was a member of the East Coast branch of a Southern California gang and new to the area, according to Zavala.
“He was looking to build a reputation for himself” and offered to kill Taylor in exchange for Smyer’s loyalty, Zavala said during opening statements.
Moore’s defense attorney, Richard Everett, told the jury there was “little or no evidence” that Moore knew Smyer.
“There were no witnesses … no DNA recovered, no fingerprints … no evidence to connect the killing of Crystal Taylor to Skyler Moore,” Everett said.
Moore had been walking his little brothers and sisters to school that morning in the neighborhood of the shooting, Everett said. It was Moore’s birthday.
After Moore had been in solitary confinement for “several years,” cold case detectives approached him with an offer to move him to a safer facility to serve out his life sentence.
In exchange, “he gives them this story about how he was hired by Mr. Smyer,” Everett said.
Moore later recanted that story over concern about helping to “convict an innocent person,” Everett said. “He didn’t kill Crystal Taylor.”
Though prosecutors said Smyer was always a suspect, he wasn’t arrested until Moore named him.
Jurors at Smyer’s first trial were shown video of a 2011 interview with Moore in which he confessed to shooting Taylor in the head. In it, Moore said Smyer told him Taylor was “trying to trap him.”
Moore told a prosecutor, “I killed Crystal, this is how it happened, this is why I did it,” Zavala said.
Prosecutors said Taylor, who was 21-22 weeks pregnant, was ambushed by Moore as she was heading to work and walking down the stairs of her apartment to a carport.
Moore was identified by a neighbor, who said he saw him walking up and down the street before he heard a gunshot at the complex and then saw the same man run off.
Prosecutors said Smyer’s history confirmed his guilt.
“Crystal is not the first girlfriend that defendant Smyer has hurt,” Zavala told jurors.
An ex-girlfriend from high school, Traci Williamson, was the mother of two of Smyer’s children, prosecutors said. During each pregnancy, when she was about 7-8 months along, she was attacked by an unknown assailant.
“That relationship had domestic violence written all over it,” Meyers said.”He pleaded with her to have an abortion.”
In the first attack, a man cut her throat with a knife, prosecutors said.
“The (second) attacker focused on kicking and punching her in the stomach,” Zavala said.
Schneider offered jurors a different perspective on this “horrible, horrible crime.”
Schneider showed photographs of Smyer in the delivery room with Williamson and smiling with his two children, who lived with him until he was arrested, according to the defense attorney.
His client dropped out of high school at 17 so he could support Williamson while she finished high school, the defense attorney said.
And the man seen fleeing from the scene of Taylor’s shooting got into a black Thunderbird, the defense attorney told the jury, adding that neither Smyer nor Moore had access to such a car. He said authorities focused on Smyer from the start and didn’t investigate anyone else in connection with the crime.
Smyer took testified during the trial and denied meeting Moore, having anything to do with the murders or any attacks on Williamson.
He told jurors he did want Crystal to get an abortion but she said she couldn’t do it.
“Wasn’t this going to ruin your life?” Schneider asked him.
“No, sir,” he responded, telling the jury that he was prepared to take on his responsibility as a father.
He acknowledged that he didn’t send flowers or a sympathy card or ask where Taylor’s funeral was being held.
Smyer was convicted of bank fraud and spent roughly 14 months in prison in 2006-2007.
— City News Service