Crime

Accused killer testifies he fought to save dying UK chef from real attacker

Robert Markham Taylor, left, and Alex Johnson.
Robert Markham Taylor, left, and Alex Johnson. Lexington

Accused killer Mark Taylor testified Tuesday that he tried to fight off the real attacker beating a University of Kentucky chef and then performed CPR on the victim.

During the sixth day of his trial on murder, kidnapping and tampering with evidence charges in Alex Johnson’s December 2013 death, Taylor took the stand Tuesday to tell jurors his former driver killed Johnson. That man, Timothy Ballard, testified last week that he witnessed Taylor beat Johnson to death before the two put the chef’s body in a barrel.

The jury could begin sorting out the conflicting testimony as early as Wednesday following scheduled closing arguments in the case.

Not in dispute: Johnson was hit hard enough to cause skull and neck fractures along with brain damage, according to a medical examiner.

I’m extremely sorry about what happened to the man, he was my best friend, we made thousands and thousands of dollars together.

Mark Taylor on victim Alex Johnson.

Ballard testified last week that Taylor caused Johnson’s injuries with an object that looked like an ice pick. Taylor told jurors Tuesday that Ballard used a nightstick to hurt Johnson.

Ballard pleaded guilty in April to kidnapping and tampering with evidence for his role in Johnson’s slaying. He was required to testify against Taylor prior to sentencing.

While both testified that Johnson got in the front passenger seat of Taylor’s car the night of Dec. 20, 2013, each gave wildly different descriptions of what happened next.

Ballard said Taylor had planned to kill Johnson before the two drove to Johnson’s apartment that night. Taylor was a marijuana dealer, and both say Johnson was his supplier.

Ballard and Taylor said Johnson was talking about getting out of the marijuana business. Taylor said Johnson was “grooming him” to take over. Ballard testified that the transition wasn’t moving fast enough for Taylor.

In his version of events, Taylor insisted Johnson died after Ballard snapped over Johnson’s “off-handed” comment. Ballard, who was driving,began beating Johnson, Taylor testified.

The beating continued until Johnson “didn’t scream anymore,” Taylor said. At one point, Taylor hit Ballard repeatedly to get him off of Johnson, Taylor testified.

With Ballard out of the way, Taylor gave Johnson CPR in an effort to revive him, Taylor testified. When CPR didn’t work, he struck Johnson’s chest repeatedly in an effort to “shock” the heart into beating.

Taylor said he eventually knew Johnson was dead.

Taylor testified that Ballard put Johnson in a barrel Taylor originally obtained to use for burning refuse. Ballard testified last week Taylor had gotten the barrel and punched holes in the sides with the intent of using it dispose of Johnson’s body in the Kentucky River.

Ballard admitted to jurors that he drove a borrowed pickup truck carrying the barrel to the river and rolled the barrel into the water. The barrel wasn’t discovered until Ballard led police to the site in January 2014.

While Ballard took the barrel to the river, Taylor cleaned out the car where Johnson was killed, Taylor testified Tuesday.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s defense attorneys asked him why he never reported what happened.

Taylor said he’d seen what Ballard did to someone “over nothing.” He also said Ballard had made comments about how easily Ballard could get close to Taylor’s family.

Taylor said his “complicated” relationship with Lexington police also explained why he didn’t report the crime.

“I don’t trust police,” Taylor said. “I never have.”

Taylor admitted to sending several text messages to Johnson after his death. Taylor sent one message the night Johnson died, asking if he needed a ride to Trust Lounge.

Prosecutor Lou Anna Red Corn asked if calls and texts he made to Johnson were meant to divert police.

“You knew he was dead, didn’t you? You’re the one who killed him, aren’t you?” Red Corn asked.

Taylor acknowledged texting someone with Kentucky State Police with a tip about Johnson.

“At that point the family was grieving,” Taylor said. “I’m extremely sorry about what happened to the man, he was my best friend, we made thousands and thousands of dollars together. It was the best way I could think of to give police a trail, something to go on.”

Red Corn said Taylor’s tip identified Johnson as a “huge pot dealer.”

“Tell me how that helps the grieving family find their son,” Red Corn said.

Taylor’s defense attorney’s last questions prompted Taylor to say he wouldn’t tell anyone he did the right thing after Johnson was killed.

“Are you telling anyone in this room that you behaved in a manner that was honorable?” defense attorney Sandra Downs asked.

“It was cowardly,” Taylor replied.

More coverage: Slain UK chef had neck, skull fractures, medical examiner testifies

Key witness describes beating UK chef endured at hands of ‘best friend’

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

Witnesses saw victim being beaten, heard screams night slain UK chef disappeared

UK chef was savagely beaten to death over marijuana, prosecutor says

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