The state’s highest court has left intact the second-degree murder conviction of Rodrick J. Taylor, who strangled 19-year-old Dominque Samuels in their Roxbury rooming house and then set her body on fire in Franklin Park to eliminate forensic evidence.
In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday that the evidence connecting Taylor to the April 28, 2006, death of the Milton High School graduate justified a jury decision to convict him of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of life with possibility of parole after 15 years.
“The Commonwealth presented a substantial case against the defendant, including forensic evidence corroborating his presence at the site of the victim’s death and testimony that he had confessed to strangling the victim,’’ Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the court.
The Taylor trial in Suffolk Superior Court lasted nearly eight weeks, one of the longest murder trials in local memory, and the jury deliberated for six days before convicting him in 2008, according to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office, which prosecuted him.
One key prosecution witness spent five days on the stand being questioned by both the defense and the prosecution.
Taylor, now 43, did not take the stand during the trial, but he proclaimed his innocence in court just before his sentencing by Superior Court Judge Stephen Neel, who called Taylor’s crime “brutal and senseless,’’ since evidence showed Samuels tried to fight off her attacker.
In court papers, Taylor’s attorney had argued that he was due a new trial because the government waited 614 days before holding his trial, a violation of his constitutional right to a speedy trial. But the SJC said Taylor and his trial attorneys were responsible for 388 days of the delay; prosecutors just 249 days.
“A defendant may not simultaneously agree to a continuance and assert his [speedy trial] rights, even if he or she states, as counsel did here, that such agreement is not a waiver,” Lenk wrote.
Taylor also contended that his trial was flawed because the prosecutor, in his closing argument, called the defense lawyer’s theory that the key prosecution witness was the real killer a “bald-faced lie.”
“As to the phrase ‘bald-faced lie,’ a prosecutor treads on dangerous ground when he can be seen as accusing defense counsel of engaging in fabrication,’’ Lenk wrote. “We are satisfied that the prosecutor’s isolated if unfortunate remarks did not constitute prejudicial error requiring a new trial.’
In a statement Friday, Conley welcomed the court’s decision.
“Eight years after her murder, I hope Ms. Samuels’ loved ones can take some comfort in knowing that we never stopped fighting on her behalf,” he said, adding that Boston police detectives, prosecutors in his office, and victim-witness advocates persisted in identifying and convicting her killer.
The court also found that Conley’s office did not withhold any evidence from Taylor’s defense team.
“No mandatory discovery was ever withheld from the defense,” said Conley spokesman Jake Wark. “Neither the defendant nor the court can name a single piece of discovery material that was witheld from the defendant.”