Crime

Man says he cleaned garage for suspect in UK chef’s killing

palcala@herald-leader.com

A Fayette County jail inmate testified Wednesday that Mark Taylor asked him to clean a rented garage at 3 a.m. about Christmas Eve 2013, shortly after University of Kentucky chef Alex Johnson went missing.

Police and prosecutors say the garage rented by Taylor on Quin-Shearer Court off Jefferson Street is where Taylor and Timothy “Tiny” Ballard put Johnson’s body into a blue 55-gallon metal barrel after he had been beaten. Johnson and the barrel were found in January 2014 in the Kentucky River, near a bar where Taylor and Ballard had worked.

“I didn’t visibly see anything out of the ordinary” in the two bays of the garage, inmate Brandon Roberts testified.

The prosecution maintains Taylor hired someone, presumably Roberts, to clean the garage to get rid of evidence.

The testimony Wednesday, the trial’s third day, gave more details on the prosecution’s theories about disposal of the car in which Johnson was allegedly beaten, the disposal of his body in a barrel, and the use of a truck to transport the body to the Kentucky River. Taylor, 31, is charged with kidnapping, murder and tampering with evidence in the Dec. 20, 2013, death of Johnson, 32.

The defense argues that Ballard is an alternative suspect in Johnson’s murder.

Roberts, who was sentenced in February on a charge of receiving stolen property, said he periodically cleaned Taylor’s apartment on Newtown Pike. Cleaning the garage was a new assignment, but Roberts said it was his understanding that it might become a regular task.

Taylor said he needed the garage cleaned by 4 a.m. for an “inspection,” Roberts said. He said he swept, mopped and scrubbed the garage floors, and wiped down the walls and door jambs.

As for Taylor, Roberts said, “I never even seen the man angry.”

Lexington detective Steve McCown testified that Roberts told police in a recorded interview that he had seen 50 pounds of marijuana in the garage rented by Taylor.

But when asked about that Wednesday, Roberts said, “I never seen 50 pounds of marijuana probably in my life.”

In previous prosecution testimony, jurors heard that Johnson bought and sold large amounts of marijuana, and that Taylor bought marijuana from Johnson for resale. Prosecution witnesses also have said that Johnson planned to get out of the marijuana trade and turn that business over to Taylor.

The Quin-Shearer Court garage is the same one where a police forensics unit detected blood stains on the interior door handle.

Megan Dillery Duff, who tests for evidence of body fluids at the Kentucky State Police lab in Frankfort, testified that no blood was found on swabs that Lexington police took from the garage floor, door lock or a metal tool.

Duff said Johnson’s DNA could not be excluded as a contributor among other DNA found on the garage door handle.

The jury also heard from John Thomas Johns, a Lexington man who had employed Ballard to work in his vineyard.

Johns was in Florida when Ballard called him and asked to borrow his red Ford pickup truck on Dec. 19, 2013, the day before Johnson was killed, according to police. The truck was the one used to haul Johnson and the barrel to the river, police said.

Johns said it wasn’t unusual for Ballard to borrow the truck because Ballard had a side business chopping and delivering firewood. Johns instructed his son-in-law to put the key to the truck in Johns’ mailbox so Ballard could use the truck and return it and the key to Johns’ house.

Ballard, 44, is expected to testify for the prosecution Thursday. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and tampering with evidence in April. He must testify for the prosecution as part of his plea deal.

Jurors also heard testimony Wednesday about the blue barrel that had been poked with holes and had its top removed.

John Kennedy testified that his former recycling business had transferred a pristine barrel to a salvage shop owned by Bill Reynolds, who died in 2015. Mark Taylor’s apartment was on the second floor above the Reynolds shop.

Kennedy said those type of barrels were used to store “medical-grade alcohol.” Bo Reynolds, Bill Reynolds’ son, said he had no personal knowledge about the barrel.

Jurors also heard testimony from Luis Rodriguez, a former Lexington mechanic who now lives in the Chicago area.

Rodriguez said he bought a Mercedes-Benz from Taylor, who lived across the street from the Rodriguez tire repair shop. Police say the Mercedes-Benz is the same vehicle in which Johnson was choked and beaten.

Rodriguez said the seats had been removed from the car, and its interior “smelled like bleach.”

There was a small, pink stain that Rodriguez said he thought was from transmission fluid.

Rodriguez said he didn’t see anything in the car that looked like blood. But when he asked Taylor what had happened to the car, Taylor responded, “You don’t want to know.”

Later prosecution testimony revealed that the Mercedes was sold for scrap on Dec. 30, 2013, 10 days after Johnson died.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:45 a.m. Thursday.

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