HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) —
Federal prosecutors say a Virginia woman charged in the 2009 slayings of a West Virginia family tried to persuade her husband, who is a co-defendant, to commit suicide to suggest that he acted alone.
The allegation is one of several factors cited by prosecutors in a filing notifying the court that they plan to seek the death penalty against Lorie Ann Taylor Keller of Fulks Run.
Taylor Keller and her husband, Nakia Keller, are charged with crossing state lines to kill Taylor Keller’s ex-husband, 36-year-old Dennis “Chip” Taylor, in October 2009 at his home in Hardy County, W.Va. They also face charges stemming from the deaths of Taylor’s wife, Allaina Whetzel Taylor, and her 5-year-old daughter, Kaylee Whetzel.
Thursday’s filing in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg also alleges that Taylor Keller asked two of her minor children, whose father was Dennis Taylor, to draw a diagram and take photographs of the victims’ home before the slayings.
“These actions involved both children in the preparation for the murder of their own father Dennis Taylor,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.
Taylor Keller asked all three of her children to provide an alibi on the night of deaths, according to the filing.
Other factors in seeking the death penalty include “substantial planning and premeditation,” multiple killings and a vulnerable victim, Kaylee Whetzel, the filing stated.
“We are disappointed that the federal government has chosen to seek the death penalty against a mother of three with no prior criminal record, yet not pursue the death penalty against Nakia Keller, who has a violent criminal record against women and children,” Taylor Keller’s attorneys, Bill Eldridge and John Holloranthey, said in a statement to The Daily News-Record of Harrisonburg.
If Taylor is convicted and sentenced to death, she would become the second woman to receive a federal death sentence since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Angela Johnson of Forest City, Iowa, was convicted in federal court in 2005 in the 1993 drug-related slayings of three adults and two children in northern Iowa. Johnson is challenging her conviction and sentence.
The federal government has not executed a woman since 1953. States have executed 12 women since 1976, including Teresa Lewis in Virginia in 2010.
Thomas Hafemeister, a death penalty expert and associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, told the Daily News-Record that prosecutors are more reluctant to seek the death penalty for women.
“Usually the male is seen as the aggressor or instigator, and the women are usually seen as the followers (but) there’s certainly no reason why a woman can’t be the aggressor,” said Hafemeister.
Taylor Keller and Nakia Keller are scheduled to stand trial in August 2012.