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State senate passes measure to reform death penalty law

Whether or not these changes will affect the lethal injection sentence imposed on Wendy's massacre killer John Taylor, one of the state's four death row inmates, remains to be seen. Currently, there is no counterpart bill in the state Assembly, said state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone).The legislation focused on the existing guidelines in which a judge is required to tell juries that if they cannot reach a unanimous decision between life without parole or a death sentence, the judge would automatically impose a 20- to 25-year sentence with the possibility of parole.The rewrite focused on the judge's instructions to juries, Stavisky said, changing the provisions so that judges would tell juries that if they are deadlocked in chosing between the death penalty and life without parole, the judge would hand down a life without parole sentence instead of a 20- to 25-year sentence with the possibility of parole.Taylor was sentenced to death in 2003, during the appeals case in which this law was being called into question. Stavisky said Queens Supreme Court Judge Steven Fisher was aware of this loophole and acted very carefully when instructing jurors on the sentencing guidelines in the widely followed Taylor case.Taylor murdered two employees at a Wendy's restaurant on Main Street in Flushing and ordered a mentally retarded accomplice, Craig Godineaux, to shoot five other people in the basement of the chain where Taylor once worked. Two of the seven victims survived the brutal, execution-style shoot-out in May 2000.Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said he does not see this as a step toward taking Taylor off death row."It is my view that there exists no basis to set aside John Taylor's death sentence," Brown said."Should the Court of Appeals decide otherwise and direct that a new sentencing hearing be held, I will continue to seek a sentence of death," he said. "I remain satisfied that under the law a sentence of death in the Wendy's case is more than justified."Stavisky said the vote in the Republican-controlled Senate was partisan, with Republicans voting in favor of the new wording for the judge's guidelines and the Democrats voting against the measure."I voted against it. I thought it did not resolve the court decision," she said."This bill isn't going anywhere. It's run into a dead end," she said. "This is an issue that has to be resolved between the Assembly and the Senate."She said the partisan vote reflected the split in the Senate on the issue of capital punishment.State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) was one of the sponsors who introduced the bill.He said the Assembly has not considered the bill yet."It will provide justice," Padavan said. He does not believe it will affect Taylor's sentence."Everyone's aware of the Wendy's massacre. This person was found without question to be guilty," he said. "That he would avoid death penalty is certainly something most people would find displeasing."Reporter Sophia Chang contributed to this article.Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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