One of the city’s oldest active murder cases is over, but a 19-year-old’s killer is still out there.
Salathiel “Ziggy” Taylor, 23, walked away from the Norfolk jail a free man Friday morning after 4½ years. He had admitted to murder, then took back that admission in a legal maneuver so unusual, it was written about in Virginia Lawyers Weekly.
It all started five years ago when college student and former Maury High School swimmer Carlton Dean Jr. was gunned down during a botched robbery in Ballentine Place.
Prosecutors filed murder charges against three men, dropped them because witnesses wouldn’t testify, refiled them more than two years later and dropped them again after their case unravelled a second time.
Taylor, the fourth defendant, was the heart of the case against the other three – and the key to its destruction. He pleaded guilty to murder in late 2015 and agreed to testify against the others but later convinced a judge to let him withdraw his plea.
In doing so, Taylor’s current lawyer grilled the state delegate who previously represented him, accusing his predecessor of incompetence and bullying Taylor into a deal with prosecutors.
Late last month, Taylor pleaded guilty a second time – but only to helping the murderers after they killed Dean – in a deal that more or less let him off with time served.
Finally, between midnight and 1:30 a.m. Friday, he walked out of the Norfolk jail.
But the three men police and prosecutors say were responsible for Dean’s murder, at least at this point, face no charges.
Circuit Judge Mary Jane Hall lamented that last month when she accepted Taylor’s guilty plea to seven felonies, including accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.
She sentenced him to five years, nearly all of which he’d already served.
Hall admitted that Taylor’s plea probably didn’t feel much like justice for Dean’s mother, Nanette, who stood in the courtroom, but the judge asked whether she supported the prosecution’s deal with Taylor.
“I do,” Nanette Dean said, “because I don’t see any end to this. I don’t see any other way to resolve it. We just have to move forward.”
It’s been a long, up-and-down road for the Deans, one that hasn’t brought them justice for their son’s killing.
Early in the morning on Sept. 22, 2012, Dean was walking along Vincent Avenue after a party. He had graduated from Maury High and was attending Tidewater Community College while living in Ballentine Place with his parents and younger brother.
Taylor, with at least three other guys in his mother’s Dodge Intrepid, drove alongside Dean and stopped. Taylor stayed in the car while the others attacked and robbed Dean at gunpoint.
When Dean tried to run, one of the men shot him. He got up and ran down Vincent Avenue but collapsed in a driveway less than a block away. Police found him with his shorts pulled down to his knees and his pockets turned inside out.
Dean was shot three times and died from a bullet to the chest, according to an autopsy report.
With no leads, police interviewed more than 20 people from the area who were arrested on felony warrants, Detective William Cogswell said at a 2013 court hearing.
It paid off: A woman gave them names and details about the shooting.
Five months after Dean was killed, police charged Taylor, Deshawn Johnson, Justin Mask and Jerry Jackson Jr. with murder.
Detectives interviewed Taylor for six hours at the Police Operations Center, Cogswell said.
At first, he denied involvement but later “admitted to knowing Deshawn Johnson killed a boy that night during a robbery.”
He told detectives he was at a friend’s house playing video games when he noticed Johnson, Mask and Jackson whispering to one another. “He knew something was up.”
Later, the three asked Taylor to give them a ride to a BP gas station so they could buy cigarettes and blunts. On the way, they spotted Dean walking, and the others told Taylor to slow down.
That’s when they got out of the car and went after Dean, Taylor said, hit him with a gun, shot him dead and turned out his pockets.
“Taylor stated that it dawned on him that the robbery and killing must have been the subject of the ‘side-barrish conversation’ he had witnessed earlier,” according to court documents.
Johnson, Mask and Jackson hopped back in the car and threatened to hurt Taylor if he told anyone what happened, he said. Taylor drove to the BP and then dropped the others off at someone’s house.
But the case against Johnson, Mask and Jackson fell apart in June when witnesses backed out of testifying, forcing prosecutors to drop charges. Because Taylor had confessed to involvement in Dean’s death, he remained in jail, charged with murder.
More than two years later, in November 2015, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and a gun charge. He was convicted and faced eight to 23 years in prison.
But he was never sentenced.
Instead, a year later, his lawyer, Del. Joe Lindsey, withdrew from the case.
Part of Taylor’s deal required testifying against Johnson, Mask and Jackson, and prosecutors resurrected charges against them. They were arrested again in December 2015.
But Taylor backed out of testifying, and prosecutors once again abandoned the case in July 2016.
Two months after Lindsey withdrew, defense attorney Eric Korslund filed a motion to withdraw the guilty plea. Lindsey pressured Taylor into a deal with prosecutors by threatening to withdraw from his case, Korslund wrote in his brief.
The two lawyers went at it during a testy hearing in March. Korslund put Lindsey on the stand and repeatedly questioned whether he told Taylor about the distinction between knowing ahead of time the other men would rob Dean and unwittingly driving them to the scene, then helping them escape.
There’s a big difference, Korslund said. In this case, it’s the difference between 20 years to life in prison and one to five years.
Taylor testified that Lindsey never explained the distinction.
“He was mistaken that if he left the scene with these gentlemen who committed this crime, then he’s guilty of murder, and that’s just a mistake,” he told Circuit Judge David Lannetti.
Lannetti found that Taylor entered his plea “inadvisedly.” He also ruled that the facts presented didn’t support his second-degree murder conviction and let Taylor take back his plea.
Prosecutors indicted him again in May. Then Korslund struck a plea agreement that was finalized late last month.
Handcuffed and in a jail jumpsuit, Taylor turned to face Nanette Dean.
“I want to say I’m sorry,” he told her, not for murdering her son but for helping his killers get away.
Korslund admitted his client committed a crime but said his job was to make sure Taylor wasn’t convicted of something that someone else did.
“He’s a nice young man,” he told Taylor’s mother and father as they stood in the courthouse hall. “He needs to choose better friends.”
Taylor’s father, 69-year-old Lee Taylor, said he’s not sure why his son backed out of testifying against the other three.
But, he added, “those boys out there, they don’t play.”
“They will kill you, and they would kill him,” he said.
Jonathan Edwards, 757-446-2536, firstname.lastname@example.org