A state appellate court panel Thursday upheld the convictions of two men for the contract killings of a pregnant woman and her unborn son outside her Hawthorne apartment in 2001.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that there were errors in the Los Angeles Superior Court trial of Derek Paul Smyer and Skyler Moore.
Smyer — whom prosecutors said arranged the contract killing — was convicted of first-degree murder for the unborn baby’s death and second-degree murder for the Sept. 25, 2001, killing of his girlfriend, Crystal Taylor, who had rebuffed his demand that she get an abortion. Jurors also found him guilty of two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit a crime, along with finding true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder for financial gain.
While behind bars in state prison for an unrelated murder, Moore confessed to Los Angeles police detectives that he had killed the 27-year-old woman at Smyer’s behest. He was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy.
Both men are serving life prison terms without the possibility of parole.
The appellate court panel rejected the defense’s contention that there was insufficient evidence to support Smyer’s conviction, noting that his motive was “shown by his complaints about Crystal’s pregnancy to her and to her co-worker” and that “the corroborating evidence amply demonstrated Smyer’s motive and ability to solicit Crystal’s murder.”
The justices noted that a former girlfriend of Smyer’s had been assaulted by someone she later saw with Smyer while she was pregnant after he had asked her to get an abortion.
The appellate court panel also rejected Moore’s contention that jurors should not have heard about his November 2011 interview — one of three with Los Angeles police — while he was serving a life prison sentence for the murder of a rival gang member.
Moore’s trial attorney, Richard Everett, told the jury there was “little or no evidence” that Moore knew Smyer, and “no physical evidence to tie Mr. Moore to the murder of Crystal Taylor.”
Everett contended that his client was in solitary confinement in state prison while serving life in prison in the unrelated murder case when detectives went to interview him, and that detectives told his client they could help him get better living conditions in prison if he cooperated with the investigation.
He said Moore was hoping to get “some of the benefits they were offering” and gave a “false confession.”
“Mr. Moore did not kill Crystal Taylor,” his attorney said.
Prosecutors told jurors that the victim’s pregnancy was “the motive for the murder,” and that Smyer “needed someone else to do it for him.” The two defendants met at the basketball courts at Anderson Park in Redondo Beach, according to prosecutors.
Moore was a member of the East Coast branch of a Southern California gang and new to the area, Deputy District Attorney Rosa Zavala told jurors.
“He was looking to build a reputation for himself” and offered to kill Taylor in exchange for Smyer’s loyalty, Zavala said during her opening statement.
Smyer’s trial lawyer, Calvin Schneider III, said after the jury’s verdict that he thought it was “clear that somebody else committed the crime” and that he was “disappointed that the jurors didn’t find that there was reasonable doubt.”
At Smyer’s sentencing in June 2017, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen said, “You know, to murder a lover is terrible. But to destroy the most innocent of innocents is the ultimate evil and that cannot be forgiven.”
One of the victim’s sisters, Michelle Taylor, said it gave her “great pride” to see Smyer in orange jail clothes.
“I pray that he never gets out,” she told the judge. “My family was destroyed.”
Another of the victim’s sisters, Monica Walker, spoke directly to Smyer, telling him, “You killed my sister for nothing … She didn’t want anything from you … What kind of monster are you?”
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