March 11, 2022

First Gaston County murder trial in 2 years starts Monday - Gaston Gazette

The first murder trial in Gaston County since the beginning of the pandemic is scheduled to begin Monday morning.

Eric Wilson Taylor, 54, will be retried on allegations that he drove across the center line on a road in Mount Holly and crashed into 61-year-old Vance Avery of Lincolnton on Feb. 5, 2015.

Avery died three days later.

Taylor's original trial was held in February 2017, and he was found guilty of second-degree murder, felony death by motor vehicle, DWI and violent habitual felon.

But there was a catch. According to court documents, Taylor's attorney conceded to the jury that he thought that the state's evidence supported convictions on charges of involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor death by motor vehicle.

After he was sentenced to life in prison, Taylor appealed the guilty verdict, essentially arguing that he hadn't agreed for his attorney to concede to his guilt, and a judge agreed with him. He was granted a new trial.

Taylor's case is among more than 40 homicide cases that the District Attorney's Office is faced with, a significant backlog caused by a combination of factors — mainly the pandemic, as well as delays at the state crime lab, where evidence is tested, said District Attorney Travis Page.

Page said that he doesn't recall seeing a backlog of cases this significant since he started practicing law in 2009.

"I'm new to this office, but I did work here as an assistant DA, and I don't recall there being a backlog this significant in the time that I've been practicing law," said Page, who took over as district attorney in July.

Murder trials were halted at the beginning of the pandemic because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19, something that, should a juror become infected, could cause a mistrial.

"We've actually seen where serious jury trials in other jurisdictions had to be paused. There were mistrials declared because juror members had tested positive," Page said.

Right now, Page feels optimistic about the declining case numbers, and he said that the downward trajectory in cases warrants the resumption of murder trials.

"If jurors are uncomfortable, if jurors are concerned, I believe they will have the ability to wear a mask," Page said.

If a juror did test positive, "from what we've seen in other counties, there's the potential of a mistrial. We certainly hope to avoid that here. I think that's part of the reason there was a reluctance for an extended period of time to try more serious cases. It's one of those things...

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