Taylor pleads guilty in choking case

Wednesday, April 6, 2005
Michael Thomas Taylor (T-G Photo by Clint Confehr)

A 43-year-old Shelbyville man pleaded guilty Tuesday of choking his 81-year-old girlfriend to death in her Shelbyville home on Aug. 24 last year. The next day he left her body on Chestnut Ridge.

Bedford County Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler accepted Michael Thomas Taylor's plea to the second degree murder charge in the death of Grace Handy and sentenced Taylor to 20 years in jail. He could have faced up to 60 years.

"Although they'd rather have their family member back," Assistant District Attorney Mike Randles told Crigler as four of Handy's survivors attended yesterday's hearing, "they understand the plea agreement."

James Brad Handy and his mother, Charlene Ann Handy Taylor, listen to Assistant District Attorney Mike Randles after Judge Robert Crigler sentenced Michael Thomas Taylor to 20-years for killing their grandmother and mother-in-law. (T-G Photo by Clint Confehr)

Charlene Ann Handy Taylor, the victim's daughter-in-law who remarried into a different Taylor family years after becoming a widow, was told of the noon hearing at about 6:30 p.m. Monday, she said. It followed several false starts toward sentencing as the defendant sought a shorter term, she said.

"He was a freeloader," the daughter-in-law said, "and we couldn't get that through to grandma."

Handy was a healthy, independent and spry woman, Randles said. One of her favorite things to do was to go dancing and about a year before her death Taylor moved into her Dunnaway Street home.

Randles and Handy's daughter-in-law discussed domestic violence that developed at Handy's house and an argument over Taylor's drinking which escalated to strangulation.

"I was just ... pretty intoxicated and she started jumping on me about drinking," Taylor told police, according to a transcription of his confession on Aug. 27. "It escalated into an argument ... I asked her to hush. She didn't and I grabbed her and choked her in a choke hold."

Randles told Crigler that Taylor held Handy until she dropped to the floor and continued to choke her for five minutes until she was dead.

"After doing that, I knew that I'd already messed up," Taylor confessed to police. "I done went too far."

He intended to simply "put her out," Taylor told police.

Then he hid her body in the trunk of her car and, the next morning, Aug. 25, he drove to Chestnut Ridge and left her in a place that Handy liked, according to her daughter-in-law.

Aug. 27, Taylor went to the Sheriff's Department, spoke to Sheriff Clay Parker and detectives as they recorded his statement, according to Randles and case records. When the county officers realized the murder was in Shelbyville, they called city police and Detective Brian Crews prepared the case for trial. Police also recorded a statement by Taylor, Randall said. It shows Taylor demonstrating the choke hold.

"Did you do those things," Judge Crigler asked Taylor who replied, "Yes, your honor."

His victim's daughter-in-law said Taylor surrendered himself "because he knew the three boys would be looking for him" when it became known she was gone.

"The only redeeming thing he did was to take police to where he dumped her body and I'm having to go through my church to say that," said Charlene Ann Handy Taylor.

After dumping the body, the confessed killer proceeded to sell or pawn Handy's possessions including a washer, dryer, TV, VCR, power tools and "all her jewelry, except one ring he couldn't get anything for. He didn't sell the car because the trunk was full of blood.

"We had tried to get him out of the house, but he got back in," Charlene Taylor said.

Her sister, Peggy Feck, explained Handy lost her judgement when a man half her age paid so much attention to her and when he isolated her from family activities.

"My father-in-law left her well enough off," Charlene Taylor said, "and basically, (Michael Thomas Taylor) was there for that."

Handy's doctor attributed her good health to dancing which she did at clubs in Tullahoma and Shelbyville.

"The last time I saw Grace alive was her birthday," Charlene Taylor said. "She was 81. Grace loved to fudge her age. She got married at 15.

"Grace loved to dance to rock 'n' roll and country."