High court keeps murderer on death row

Published June 30, 2006

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence for a Riverview murderer who once asked to be known as "Dark Eagle."

William Kenneth Taylor, 47, was sent to death row for killing Sandra Kushmer and nearly beating to death her brother, William Maddox Jr., in May 2001.

The high court agreed that Taylor's case fell "among the most aggravated of murders" because of his previous violent crimes and the fact that he killed for financial gain.

Justices were not swayed by Taylor's claims of mental illness, noting the conflicting evidence about his condition.

This was the first appeal for Taylor, who has been on death row since October 2004. He now can seek post-conviction relief at the trial court level.

The high court Thursday ordered a new sentencing hearing for a death row inmate from the Panhandle.

It unanimously rejected an effort by former mental patient Jeremiah Rodgers, 29, of Pace to withdraw his guilty plea in the 1998 mutilation murder of 18-year-old Jennifer Robinson. But it vacated his death sentence in a 4-2 decision.

The majority said Rodgers' lawyer should have been allowed to present evidence during his sentencing hearing that co-defendant Jonathan Lawrence, 31, also a former mental patient, kept numerous kinds of weapons as well as books on assault guns, snipers and assassins at his home, in an attempt to show that Lawrence was the dominant force in their murder conspiracy.