Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ken Taylor and the Death of Jordan Shelton

Murder Charges & Trial

Ken Taylor's booking photo.
Ken Taylor's booking photo.
Ken Taylor fully cooperated with police and DCS after the incident, but media accounts were far from flattering. Shortly after Jordan's death, another foster-son of Taylor's, Kyle Perdue, told reporters that Taylor had once grabbed him by the neck and thrown him up a short staircase. Another foster son, Buddy Hooper, said Taylor once choke-slammed him to the ground for no reason, knocking the wind out of him. Ultimately, a grand jury indicted Taylor on a First Degree Murder charge under a felony murder theory that Jordan had been killed while Taylor committed Aggravated Child Abuse against the youth.

 

The Trial

On October 6, 2009, the murder trial of Ken Taylor began in the historic Hawkins County Courthouse in Rogersville, Tennessee -- the trial had been moved out of Morristown due to the overwhelming publicity. District Attorney General C. Berkeley Bell put forth a fairly straightforward case: Taylor was a grown man, a bodybuilder, well over 200 lbs, while Jordan Shelton was "a chubby little boy" at 5'3" and 174 lbs. Regardless of who started the fight, prosecutors maintained, Taylor took it too far by putting the teen in an armlock and squeezing him until his head turned purple. The State called previous foster children to detail violent episodes with Ken Taylor. Prior foster son Buddy Hooper described an incident where Taylor passed him in the hallway and then "hunkered down" like he wanted to wrestle, although no words were exchanged. In a flash, Taylor had an arm around his throat and wrestled him to the ground suddenly, and then walked off. Hooper characterized it as "random choke-slamming." The defense characterized the incident as good-natured horseplay, and the contentious cross-examination of Hooper over minor discrepancies in his story led to one of the most sensational moments of the trial when the young man exclaimed to Taylor: "You shouldn't have put your hands on a 16-year-old, just like, he shouldn't have put his hands on the 16-year-old he killed...'' [Taylor] was a big guy, all he had to do is wrap them up." Prosecutors would go on to use this idea that Taylor should have bear-hugged Jordan around the waist (instead of the neck) through closing arguments.

The defense case revolved around the idea that Ken Taylor did not knowingly kill Jordan Shelton. Taylor always believed Jordan Shelton was breathing throughout the entire incident and he released Jordan as soon as he stopped struggling. Defense attorney Herbert Moncier equated the stranglehold to an ineffective "lateral vascular hold" used by police to subdue violent people by cutting off the artery to the head for 15 seconds or so and cuffing them while they temporarily pass out. Moncier's point being that Taylor was trying to use a generally accepted form of restraint, but unknowingly performed it incorrectly thus causing Jordan's death. Moreover, Moncier said that Taylor believed his wife and children might be endangered by letting Jordan run amok -- and that as his foster father, he had a duty to restrain Jordan if the boy was going to destroy property or harm others.

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