BY JILLIAN BERMANN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 7, 2008
Orange Taylor III, a 21-year-old man from Southfield, was found guilty yesterday of killing Eastern Michigan University student Laura Dickinson in December 2006.
After about five hours of jury deliberations, Taylor was found guilty of first-degree felony murder, assault with intent to commit sexual penetration, first-degree home invasion and larceny in a building.
The sentencing is scheduled for May 7 at 9 a.m. A charge of first-degree felony murder brings a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
The defense rested its case Friday.
This is the second time Taylor has stood trial for Dickinson's murder. In October, jurors told Judge Archie Brown, who presided over both trials, that they couldn't reach a verdict, leading the judge to declare a mistrial.
Though the prosecution's arguments were largely the same as in the last trial, jurors reached a decision within a few hours. In October, it took three days for jurors announce the deadlock.
Alvin Keel, Taylor's defense attorney in the first trial, withdrew from the case in December because Taylor's family could no longer afford his services. Assistant Public Defender Laura Graham represented Taylor in the retrial, which began March 31.
There were no apparent differences in prosecution's approach from the first trial to second one.
As in the first trial, Michelle Lockwood, a custodian who worked in Dickinson's building, testified that she found Dickinson naked below the waist and lying down in her dorm room Dec. 16, 2006. She said she followed an odor to Dickinson's room and found the woman lying on the floor, apparently dead.
"I backed up and called the police," Lockwood said.
Assistant Prosecutor Blaine Longsworth called several witnesses who had seen Dickinson's body shortly after it was found. During cross-examination of these witnesses, Graham suggested there were no signs that a physical struggle occurred in Dickinson's room.
Graham also said the evidence found in Dickinson's room could have been tainted because people who entered the room to investigate the scene weren't wearing protective gloves or shoe covers.
In the first trial, which began Oct. 16, Longsworth argued Taylor killed Dickinson in a manner that was "every woman's nightmare."
Longsworth used DNA evidence obtained from semen found on Dickinson's leg, surveillance camera footage, a hooded sweatshirt found in Taylor's apartment and a bag of gifts found in Taylor's apartment to argue that Taylor had been in Dickinson's room on the night of the incident. The camera footage shows Taylor wearing the sweatshirt on the night in question. Longsworth said Taylor stole a bag of gifts that Dickinson had received earlier in the evening.
Keel argued that proving Taylor was in Dickinson's room didn't mean he raped or killed her.
Instead, Keel argued at the time that Taylor was smoking marijuana with some friends on the night of the incident and wandered into Dickinson's room looking for drugs. Keel said Taylor found Dickinson in her room in a "compromising position" and then ejaculated on her.
"(Physical evidence) doesn't even mean you touched the person," he said.
After Taylor was found guilty, Don Loppnow, Eastern Michigan's executive vice president and provost, released a statement through the school.
"Our first thoughts are with the Dickinson family and friends," the statement read. "We hope this provides them the closure the family has sought."
Shortly after the Dec. 2006 episode, Eastern Michigan officials came under fire for the way they handled the incident. After Dickinson's body was found, the university released a statement to the media and Dickinson's parents saying they didn't believe foul play occurred.
An independent investigation and a U.S. Department of Education report found that the school had violated the Jeanne Clery Act, a federal law requiring colleges and universities to fully disclose any information regarding campus security issues.
After the release of the findings, EMU's Board of Regents fired then-President John Fallon. Jim Vick, the school's vice president for student affairs and Cindy Hall, the public safety director, also stepped down.