Suspect in slaying of Alex Johnson appears in court, waives arraignment on murder charge

jwarren@herald-leader.comFebruary 12, 2014 

Mark Taylor's name surfaced early in the Lexington police investigation into the disappearance of Alex Johnson, according to documents filed in Fayette District Court on Wednesday.

An arrest warrant filed in the case says Johnson's girlfriend, Lisa Horobin, heard and recognized Taylor's voice in the background while she was talking with Johnson on the phone Dec. 20, the last day Johnson was seen alive.

Johnson ended the conversation by telling Horobin, "Mark is here, I'll call you later," the warrant says.

Robert Markham "Mark" Taylor is charged with murder, kidnapping and tampering with physical evidence. He pleaded not guilty in district court Wednesday to murder and other charges in the beating death of Johnson, whose body was found in a barrel in 4 feet of water in the Kentucky River on Jan. 24.

Taylor, 29, was not in the courtroom Wednesday. He appeared via video from the Fayette County Detention Center, where he has been held since being returned from Texas on Tuesday.

Taylor's attorney, Paul Croley II, waived formal arraignment and entered the not-guilty pleas in his client's behalf during a brief hearing.

"There is a whole lot more to this story than what has been reported thus far," Croley told reporters outside the courtroom. "Mark denies these allegations and looks forward to his day in court ... for the truth to come out."

Croley did not elaborate.

Investigators also have not provided specifics about the case. The criminal complaint, which has provided the most details about the case, does not list a motive.

The complaint, which is signed by police Detective Robert Wilson, says an alleged accomplice told Lexington police that he saw Taylor beat Johnson to death with an unknown object while they were in a car.

Timothy Ballard, who also faces charges in the killing, told officers that he helped Taylor kidnap Johnson by luring Johnson into their vehicle, then "attacking and restraining him once inside the car," the police report says.

Ballard told police that he watched as "Taylor beat Mr. Johnson to death with a foreign object," the report says. "Mr. Ballard then stated that he disposed of the body of Mr. Johnson while Mr. Taylor cleaned the vehicle used in the crime."

Ballard's account came during an interview with Lexington police on Jan. 20, according to the complaint.

Johnson, 32, died from blunt-force trauma to the head, the Fayette County coroner's office said.

The police report filed in court Wednesday describes the telephone conversation between Johnson and Lisa Horobin on the day Johnson disappeared.

According to the document, Horobin said she heard a knock at the door, heard Johnson open the door, and then heard a voice that "she immediately identified as Mark Taylor, a friend of the victim."

"She heard Mr. Taylor state, 'Come downstairs, I've got a surprise for you,'" the complaint says. "She then advised that Mr. Johnson said, 'Mark is here. I'll call you later.' This is the last time Mr. Johnson was heard from."

Johnson's friends became concerned when no one could contact him after Dec. 20. An inquiry into his whereabouts ended only when his body was found in the river Jan. 24.

Croley called the case a "tragic set of circumstances for all involved," describing the charges against Taylor as "very serious."

Croley said he hadn't yet been provided with all evidence in the case.

"At this point, I don't know how we will proceed," he said. "I understand that more than likely a case will be presented to a grand jury soon, so we will have to wait and see what happens there."

Croley declined any comment about the relationship between Taylor and Johnson.

"I spoke with Mark this morning; obviously he is very concerned about these charges," Croley said. "Mark entered a not-guilty plea today, and denies the allegations that have been made thus far."

Johnson was a chef at the University of Kentucky's Hilary J. Boone Center. A native of Bowling Green, Johnson came to Lexington to attend Transylvania University; he stayed in town after completing a degree in Spanish in 2005.

According to the report by Wilson, police determined early in their investigation that Taylor and Ballard were together on the evening of Dec. 20.

Both men indicated that they were at the TrusT Lounge, a bar at 123 West Main in downtown Lexington, that night.

"However, detectives were able to obtain a video from TrusT that showed Mr. Ballard and Mr. Taylor did not arrive until 11:40 p.m. on the 20th," court documents say.

Taylor was arrested Jan. 22 in Pharr, Texas, on a warrant from Lexington.

Ballard, 42, was arrested Jan. 21 on charges of complicity to kidnapping and tampering with evidence in the case.

Taylor is due back in court Feb. 25.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @hlpublisafety

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