Death penalty trial begins for Palm Springs man in wife’s 2013 murder

Updated March 01, 2018
Herman Wallace of West Palm Beach testifies about the night his daughter, Watisha Wallace, was killed at his home. Her estranged husband, Elton Taylor, is facing the death penalty in the first-degree murder trial at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 1, 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

There is no question that Elton Taylor barged into the home of his estranged wife’s parents in 2013, forced Watisha Wallace outside and shot her dead, a defense attorney for the burly 39-year-old Palm Springs man told a Palm Beach County jury on Thursday.

But in an apparent attempt to spare her client a death sentence, Assistant Public Defender Christine Geraghty insisted Wallace’s murder wasn’t premeditated.

“This case is indeed about the loss of Watisha Wallace,” Geraghty told the jury in a hushed voice during opening statements. “But it is also about the loss of a dream to build a life together.”

During the course of what is expected to be a roughly weeklong trial, the jury will learn not only about how the 41-year-old Wallace was killed but why Taylor took the action he did, Geraghty told the courtroom packed with the grieving families of both Wallace and Taylor.

Wallace’s father, Herman Wallace, and her now 20-year-old daughter testified that Watisha Wallace, a Palm Tran Connection bus driver, feared her husband of three years. As he became increasingly abusive, she persuaded a judge to give her a restraining order to keep him away and she moved into her parents’ West Palm Beach home.

Neither the move nor the restraining order spared Wallace when Taylor barged into her parents’ home, shouting: “I want my wife. I want my wife,” Herman Wallace testified Thursday.

Herman Wallace was eating dinner while sitting on a couch when Taylor, a truck driver, burst through the back door of the home on 36th Street at about 10 p.m., Oct. 21, 2013. He said Taylor charged up the stairs, grabbed Watisha Wallace and forced her outside.

As this was happening, Herman Wallace ran outside to bang on neighbors’ doors for help.

“She screamed real loud, and I heard pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow,” Herman Wallace remembered.

Before the sounds of gunfire filled the air, he said he heard his daughter’s voice for the last time. “Daddy, come back. Daddy, come back,” he said she screamed.

Arliesha Wallace, who was 16 when her mother was killed, shares many of the same memories. After she heard her mother’s pleas and the gunshots, she said she ran upstairs. As she and her grandmother were frantically searching for a phone to call police, Taylor burst through the door of the bedroom where they were.

“And you,” Arliesha remembered Taylor saying as he began hitting her grandmother with the butt of his gun.

Taylor then ran from the house again and shot himself, said Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis. Police found him lying on top of Wallace’s body, she said.

In addition to first-degree murder, Taylor faces seven other charges, including kidnapping, aggravated assault and burglary.

He is the third person this year to face the death penalty in a Palm Beach County courtroom. The other two men were convicted of murder, but juries declined to sentence them to death.