A former Murrells Inlet pastor who was convicted of molesting an 11-year-old boy was out on bond Wednesday afternoon, the result of a judge’s decision to vacate his life sentence.
Robert Troy Taylor, 49, was released from the Williamsburg County Detention Center on a $50,000 surety bond, authorities said. The Third Circuit Solicitor’s Office is preparing to try Taylor again.
“We vigorously opposed him being released,” prosecutor Warren Anderson said. “We think he’s a flight risk and a danger to the community. Unfortunately, this means the case is back at square one.”
In 2007, Taylor was convicted of kidnapping and second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, according to court records. It was his second conviction for a sexual assault. A year earlier, he had pleaded guilty to abusing the same boy in 1999.
The cases stemmed from Taylor’s time as pastor of Low Country Community Church, which the victim attended.
In 1998, Taylor took a group of boys from the church camping in rural Williamsburg County. That night, Taylor woke the victim, placed his hand over his mouth and sexually assaulted him, according to court records.
The boy did not make these allegations until he was 17. Six months after reporting the Williamsburg County assault, the boy also told authorities that Taylor raped him in a shower after a beach trip in Georgetown County in 1999.
Taylor pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the Georgetown County case. He was sentenced to five years in prison and three years’ probation.
In the Williamsburg County case, a jury found Taylor guilty. Because of his prior conviction, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Taylor appealed his conviction, but the S.C. Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict in 2012 and the S.C. Supreme Court declined to hear his case. That left him with the option of filing for post conviction relief, which he did in 2014.
Taylor argued his trial attorney, Charles Barr, had been ineffective because he didn’t interview any of the other boys who went on the camping trip in Williamsburg County. Barr acknowledged that fact and the judge who heard Taylor’s application for post conviction relief agreed that Barr should have investigated further.
“Trial counsel claims that his trial strategy was to discredit the victim’s testimony in an effort to create reasonable doubt,” the order from Judge Tanya Gee states. “If this were so, there is no valid strategic reason why trial counsel would not make some attempt to interview the other boys on the camping trip.”
During an evidentiary hearing in 2015, the accounts of other people who were on the trip were presented to show contradictions with the victim’s story. Gee wrote that if the defense attorney had presented testimony from these witnesses at the trial, the outcome might have been different.
Another issue was Gayle Allen Cooke, a counselor who was one of the state’s expert witnesses at Taylor’s trial.
During the 2015 hearing, Cooke said she would not have testified for the prosecution had she known what she later learned about Taylor. After the trial, Cooke said she met with some of the other men who knew Taylor when they were boys, including those who went camping with him. She said one boy who had been particularly close to Taylor told her the former pastor had never tried to abuse him, “which raised a red flag for her,” according to court documents.
She also spoke to missionaries who ran an orphanage in Romania, and they said they never saw Taylor act inappropriately during his interaction with children there.
The judge ultimately determined Taylor’s conviction should be vacated because his lawyer had been ineffective in assisting him. She ordered that he be granted a new trial.
Gee’s 2016 order sent Taylor from prison to the Williamsburg County jail. That led Taylor’s attorney to push for bond, which was granted at a hearing Tuesday.
Although he opposed the former pastor's release, the prosecutor said he’s ready to prepare to for another trial. That means meeting with the victim, interviewing witnesses and reexamining an incident from more than 20 years ago.
“That’s kind of where we are with it,” Anderson said. “We plan on working on it as hard as we can to get it back through the judicial system.”
Taylor’s attorney Jeremy Thompson said he would not comment on the case without his client’s permission. Thompson did not respond to myhorrynews.com in time for this report.
During his time in prison, Taylor played a role in another high-profile case on the Grand Strand.
That case involved Richard Gagnon, who was convicted of murdering Conway residents Charlie and Diane Parker.
Taylor testified that he was incarcerated at Evans Correctional Institution where he met Robert Lee Mullins, a witness in Gagnon’s trial who had testified that Gagnon discussed his involvement in the murders with him.
Taylor played the piano in the prison chapel that Mullins visited and the former preacher told the court Mullins confided in him that he had lied at Gagnon’s trial when he testified that Gagnon had indicated his involvement in the 2005 murders.
Taylor's testimony was the basis for Judge Steven John's 2013 decision to grant Gagnon a new trial.