ELIZABETHTOWN — There is a technical snarl in court sentencing for Paul J. Taylor.
His defense attorney on Thursday challenged the validity of a prior conviction, saying legal questions relating to a case from 1996 should affect the prison time court will set for Taylor for killing Robert M. Rennie in August 2012.
A former resident of Keeseville, Taylor was convicted of second-degree murder in Essex County Court in October for his role the gang assault that ended Rennie’s life.
Taylor and accomplices Scott E. Denno and Michael D. Rivers engaged in a three-against-one fight, leaving Rennie to die on the early morning of Aug. 26 last year.
Out on parole at the time, Taylor had served time for second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Marcus Chadwick back in May 1996.
Chadwick, of Pittsford, Vt., had allegedly been drinking with Taylor and Taylor’s roommate Mark Hathaway, and the trio were driving along back roads in Moriah on May 3, 1996, according to court accounts.
Chadwick was found dead on May 14 off the Tracey Road that year, his body pinned face down to the ground by a large tree. Police initially thought the death was accidental.
Statements made to police at the time revealed that Hathaway and Taylor got into a drunken fight with Chadwick and that Hathaway had dragged the unconscious victim into the woods.
Then, with Taylor’s help, he placed the tree on top of Chadwick. Police said he died from hypothermia and asphyxiation.
Taylor, then 23, was living near Rutland, Vt., with Hathaway. Both men were extradited for trial in New York. But before the trial started, Taylor and Hathaway agreed to a plea deal.
Taylor went to prison in March 1997 and was released in Jan. 2010.
As Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague submitted prison paperwork in court Thursday, Public Defender Brandon Boutelle raised legal questions.
Boutelle said he had not had the requisite time allowed by law to review the conviction and sentence report with his client, and he asked that sentencing be adjourned.
“We’re contesting the prior conviction,” Boutelle said, providing few details of the challenge he planned to bring back to court.
Boutelle said Taylor was given incompetent plea advice in the previous case and that “the defense attorney did not consult an expert witness” in connection with Chadwick’s death.
And, he said, “there was another person involved in that incident.”
Essex County Judge Richard B. Meyer granted a two-day adjournment, giving the defense time to review the conviction report with Taylor.
The sentencing hearing is set to reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 23.
It had been adjourned once from early December to make time for a restitution hearing.
Particulars of Taylor’s prior conviction were not raised as part of the trial in Rennie’s death, primarily because laws look to convict on evidence associated with an individual case.
Prior conviction can, however, affect a prison sentence.
A second-degree murder conviction, apart from any prior felony, carries a sentence of 15 to 25 years in prison.
Restitution was set Thursday at $6,000 to be paid jointly and severally — which means the amount can come from any or all — by Taylor, Denno and Rivers, each of whom was found guilty in separate jury trials.
Denno and Rivers were both convicted of first-degree manslaughter and felony gang assault.
Denno was sentenced to the maximum 25 years in prison at his hearing in August.
But Rivers’s sentencing has been moved three times since August, pending review by a new attorney.
In addition to second-degree murder, Taylor will be sentenced for felony gang assault and possession of a weapon.
Taylor is also currently facing felony rape charges in Essex County Court, but attorneys have not disclosed status on that case.
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