Prosecutors next week will ask a Palm Beach County jury to vote to execute a 39-year-old Palm Springs man for the October 2013 shooting death of his estranged wife.
Jurors on Wednesday found Elton Taylor guilty of first-degree murder and three of the four aggravated assault charges against him in the first phase of the death penalty trial over the death of 41-year-old Watisha Wallace. Taylor shot Wallace multiple times Oct. 21, 2013, on the patio of her parents’ home on 36th Street in West Palm Beach and also shot himself.
The verdicts, which also included an acquittal on an armed aggravated battery charge, a conviction for false imprisonment as a lesser included offense of kidnapping and a conviction as charged on a felon gun charge, came after jurors deliberated over 11 hours.
Circuit Judge Laura Johnson took the rarely-used step of sequestering jurors at a local hotel Tuesday night when their first eight hours of deliberation failed to produce a verdict.
On Monday, attorneys on both sides of the case delivered their final arguments to jurors, agreeing from the start that Taylor was the one who shot Wallace, a Palm Tran Connection bus driver who got a restraining order against him and was trying to end their three-year marriage after he became increasingly abusive.
Assistant Public Defenders Christine Geraghty, Joseph Walsh and Tatiana Bertsch told jurors, however, that Taylor did not act with premeditation.
“The cold hard facts show that this isn’t a first-degree murder case,” Walsh said, describing the killing as “a split-second decision, not planned.”
Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis and fellow prosecutor Chrichet Mixon said Taylor knew exactly what he was doing when he drove over to the Wallace family home while armed. He had previously attempted to come to Wallace’s family and ask for prayer, Ellis said, adding that it was nothing but a ruse to “get an in” to make contact with his estranged wife.
When Wallace’s mother and father rebuffed those efforts, Mixon and Ellis said it was calculated rage that brought him to the house with the intent to kill.
“Nobody deserves what happened to her,” Ellis said. “And what did she do? She didn’t want to be with him. Period. End of story. And he knew it.”
The final arguments capped a trial that featured emotional testimony from Wallace’s father, Herman, and her now 20-year-old daughter, Arliesha.
Herman Wallace said he went to knock on a neighbor’s door to get help after Taylor burst through the door, charged upstairs and forced his daughter out of the house at gunpoint.
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.
Wallace’s daughter said she later saw Taylor hit her grandmother, Wallace’s mother, with the butt of a handgun before he ran outside again and shot himself.
Jurors acquitted Taylor of the charge tied to that alleged beating.
Still, the first-degree murder conviction means that Taylor is eligible for a death sentence if all 12 jurors decide -- at the end of a two-day hearing beginning Monday -- that it should be his punishment rather than life in prison.
Attorneys in the case will meet with Johnson on Friday to discuss legal issues ahead of Monday’s sentencing.