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Judge sets trial date for accused Wendy’s killer

Jury selection for the trial of John Taylor, who is accused of masterminding the killing of five people at Wendy’s in downtown Flushing two years ago, will begin in September, a State Supreme Court judge recently decided.

At a pretrial hearing May 1, Judge Steven Fisher set the date for jury selection to begin Sept. 10 in Taylor’s trial.

Taylor, 38, faces the death penalty on multiple murder charges. Prosecutors contend that Taylor planned and participated in the execution-style murder of five employees of the Wendy’s restaurant on Main Street on May 24, 2000.

Craig Godineaux, 32, confessed to his involvement in the massacre and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Before Godineaux’s plea, his attorney argued in front of Fisher that her client was mentally retarded and therefore was ineligible to be put to death by lethal injection.

District Attorney Richard Brown asked for 60 days to review the defense’s claim. After speaking with family members, friends and parole officers and reviewing a test that showed Godineaux’s I.Q. ranked in the lowest 1 percent of the population, Brown opted not to seek the death penalty for Godineaux.

Originally accused of acting in concert with Godineaux, Taylor was hit with a supplemental indictment in April 2001 in which prosecutors said he masterminded the five murders.

Although Brown said he had hoped the trial would begin before this summer, lawyers on both sides of the case said they thought waiting until September was a good idea.

“It seems like an appropriate date to set,” said John Youngblood, one of Taylor’s lawyers, of the Capital Defender Office.

Youngblood said the jury pool was often thin in the summer, and that due to the high profile of the case, he wanted a large jury pool to increase the chances of selecting jurors who held few preconceptions about the case.

“The defense has been striving through various motions to make sure the jury pool is as expanded as possible, and we don’t want to lose jurors in the summer,” he said.

Betsy Herzog, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney’s office, said the prosecution is turning its attention away from pretrial motions and is now preparing for the trial.

Assistant District Attorney Daniel Saunders said it would be “unduly burdensome” to make jurors sit through a lengthy summer trial, Newsday reported.

The decision to wait until September also allows both sides to see the results of a pending appellate court case that may have implications for whether or not Taylor can be sentenced to death if convicted, lawyers said.

The case of Darrel Harris, a Brooklyn man sentenced to death for multiple murders, was taken before the New York State Court of Appeals last week.

The legal discussion over Harris is the first time a death sentence has gone before the state’s appeals court since Gov. George Pataki reinstated the death penalty in the state in 1995.

Whether or not the court decides to uphold the death penalty will influence how both sides of the case handle Taylor’s trial, Youngblood said.

David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Court Administration, said the more than 27 months between the date of Taylor’s arrest and the beginning of jury selection in his trial was not atypical in a capital case.

“Capital cases come with much more complex legal issues,” said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration. “They are a different beast.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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