- The odd couple: Taylor (above) and Carter.
Carl Taylor Jr. was an unlikely nightclub stud. The men who dominate the pubs and clubs of downtown Elyria sport heavy muscles, drive Ford trucks, and brag about the union job they inherited from Uncle Bobby. Tiny, at just 4-feet-11, disabled, and perpetually unemployed -- Taylor hardly fit the type.
But Taylor wasn't one to sit back while others had fun. At 22, he was already a legend. Kyle Junior, a Lorain County Community College student, remembers watching Taylor at Uncle Vic's Nightclub in downtown Elyria. "He was making his way down the aisle, this little black midget in a wheelchair, just strolling along, saying, 'What's up?' to everyone. It was like he was the coolest guy in the world."
As the music pounded and the night grew giddy, Taylor wheeled out to the dance floor, decked out in Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica, twirling a thick silver chain between his small fingers. "He was bouncing his head around, waving his arms, spinning the chair," Junior says. Women loved his panache. "I saw a few, later, dancing on top of his wheelchair."
The consensus at Uncle Vic's was that Taylor had "game," Junior says. Months later, Taylor's landlord would find photographic proof of his prowess: a scrapbook with pictures of Taylor and a bevy of voluptuous women.
Yet revelers at Uncle Vic's won't spot a head-bopping, lady-charming midget any time soon. For Taylor, the party ended in June, and he now sits in the Lorain County Jail, awaiting trial for murder. As much as Taylor may long for a return to the limelight, prosecutors have other plans.
At 6:50 a.m. on June 8, Elyria police received a report that a man had been shot at 520 Middle Avenue, just six blocks from their downtown headquarters. The victim, 33-year-old Joseph Suggs, was lying inside the doorway of an apartment at the back of the house. Bleeding and unable to speak, Suggs was rushed by helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center, only to die the next day without regaining consciousness.
The 300-square-foot apartment where police found Suggs was rented by Sherry Carter, Taylor's girlfriend. Landlord Don Mountain didn't much mind their messy lifestyle, attested to by the junk on the back stoop -- an empty bottle of King Cobra malt liquor, a Coleman cooler, a pack of Pall Malls, duct tape on the door. "There's a boarding house next door with 30 rooms," he says. "You can't get good tenants next to a boarding house."
When Carter moved in six months before, she was living with a "nice guy," Mountain says, and worked as a Speedway cashier. But then Carter was fired for lifting $382.94 from the cash register. District Manager John Harb canned her on the spot. "She wasn't a very smart thief," Harb says. "I was never happy with her, to be honest. She was just lazy." Harb turned the case over to the city prosecutor, and Carter spent three days in jail. It took her five months to pay off the cash and her $500 fine. In the meantime, the "nice guy" moved out, and in moved Taylor.
Like Carter, Taylor has a record. When he was 20, he was charged with "corrupting" a 15-year-old girl. Taylor told police they had sex twice, once at his apartment and once at Elyria's Howard Johnson's.
Because the sex was consensual, the judge ordered probation. Taylor might have gotten off with that, but the court soon learned he had violated its order to stay away from the girl. Then he blew off a hearing. In December 1999, the parole authority picked him up, and the court found probable cause that he had broken house arrest, skipped sex-offender counseling, and taken drugs. In February, Taylor was admitted to the Lorain Correctional Institute in Grafton. He stayed 11 months.
It wasn't long after his parole that Taylor met Carter. The two made an odd pair. Popular and animated, he weighs 110 pounds. At 27, she is five years older, a foot taller, and 140 pounds heavier. Unlike Taylor, Carter is not known for her personality.
Even in a neighborhood where many admit to stints in jail, the two drew attention. Neighbors complained of hearing gunshots. Some suspected Taylor was dealing crack. "There were always a lot of people coming and going," one woman says. "Real late at night, all sorts of people would be stopping by." On June 3, Mountain served the couple with an eviction notice.
Police believe neighborhood suspicions may have been correct. "I can't confirm that [Taylor] is a drug dealer, but that is our speculation," says Elyria Police Captain Dennis Will. When police arrived that June morning to the sound of a neighbor's barking Rottweilers, they found marijuana in the apartment and a crack pipe and more marijuana on Suggs.
But first they found Carter. She was on the phone when Elyria Patrolwoman Deena Baker first arrived. Carter called out, "I shot him in the head. Don't come in here," according to Baker's report. A .25-caliber Titan lay on the table. Carter said Suggs had asked her for a glass of water. When she opened the door, he attacked her and tried to rape her. So she shot him with the semi-automatic. She was the only one home, she said.
Investigators found two problems with her story, Will says. The department's rape kit indicated no sign that Suggs had touched Carter. And the time that neighbors reported hearing the shot didn't match with Carter's phone call. When police questioned Carter and Taylor, both changed their statements. Taylor shot Suggs after Suggs tried to rob him, they said. Police believe Carter then waited, giving Taylor time to roll from the scene as she washed incriminating blood from the apartment. When police arrived, Carter lied and attempted to take the fall.
Suggs, a laborer with Myron Trucking in Columbia Station, had been in prison on theft charges and had admitted to his share of trouble with drugs and alcohol. But police apparently don't buy the self-defense story. Suggs was unarmed, Will says, and police believe he and Taylor had prior dealings. Taylor was arrested for murder and tampering with evidence. Carter was charged with obstructing justice and complicity to murder. Later, the grand jury added more charges against Carter: tampering with evidence and two more counts of obstructing justice.
Michael Doyle, the attorney representing Taylor, says that prosecutors have made no offer of a plea bargain. Taylor must either plead guilty and face 15 years to life in prison, or fight the charges.
Doyle is ready to fight. He insists that Taylor is not a dealer, nor is he a bad guy. "He's a very nice individual," he says.
The shooting may be the result of Taylor's physical condition, he says. Taylor suffers from brittle-bone disease, a genetic disorder that leaves its victims with frequent fractures, small size, and chronic bone pain, Doyle says. "A five-year-old girl could probably snap his neck. He took a fall last year and ended up in a full-body cast. He's very vulnerable." If Suggs approached him menacingly, Doyle suggests, Taylor had no choice but to fire.
The success of a self-defense strategy could rest on Carter -- the only witness to the shooting. Doyle is convinced Carter is trying to "cut a deal" to testify against her boyfriend and save herself. "First she says she shot the guy; now she's trying to pin it on poor little Carl," Doyle says. "I don't know what to think."
Kenneth Lieux, Carter's court-appointed attorney, says he is having discussions with prosecutors, but insists Doyle is jumping the gun. "We're exploring our options," he says. "When the facts unfold in court, if it comes to that, you will see Sherry is not involved in the crime or murder, or an accessory to it." Chief Assistant County Prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum declined comment, and neither Taylor nor Carter responded to interview requests.
Justice can be swift in Lorain County, and Taylor is slated for trial September 25. Whether Carter goes with him or makes her own deal could be the difference in whether Taylor goes to prison or rolls back to freedom and nightclub bliss.
Taylor's admirers aren't sure what to think. "He had a thug persona, and you could say he was hard," Junior says. "I wouldn't have messed with him. But I never really thought he would murder someone."
But another Uncle Vic's patron takes a different view. "I can't say I'm surprised," he says. "The first time I saw him, I said to my friend, 'Watch out for the little guys, 'cause they'll freakin' kill you.' We laughed about it, but sure enough, this happened."