A Year After Being Sentenced
John Taylor was sentenced to death for his role in the Wendy’s slayings.
photo courtesy of the NYPD
Taylor is the sixth man to be condemned to death row in New York State since Governor George Pataki reinstated the death penalty in 1995. His seven by nine foot concrete cell is a spartan fishbowl, with only a toilet, sink and bed for creature comfort. His every move and sound is recorded on a camera and microphone in the brightly lit space.
His routine never changes. He spends 23 hours each day in lockup, and one hour alone, exercising in an outdoor cage monitored by camera and guarded by rifle-toting Corrections officers.
Each week Taylor is allowed three showers, one visit by clergy, lawyers or relatives and one 10-minute phone calls. Plexiglass dividers keep separated from his visitors. Human contact is almost non-existent – inmates on death row are partitioned by solid concrete walls. Their only contact is by yelling to each other, a Corrections source said.
"He rarely has visitors," the source added.
‘He Murdered My Child’
Joan Truman Smith sobbed quietly into a handkerchief as the jury foreman announced Taylor’s fate on Nov. 26, 2002.
"Death," the foreman repeated three times, as the families and friends of Anita Smith, 22, Jean Auguste, 27, and Jeremy Mele, 18, Ramon Nazario, 44, and Ali Ibadat, 63, melted into tears.
"He murdered my child," Smith said outside the courtroom after hearing the death sentence. "Now she has justice."
Smith described Taylor as a "monster," who "condemned himself to spend the rest of his life in a cage, to wait there until the day he is executed."
A year later, Smith’s sentiments are deeper and stronger as she awaits the day she can witness Taylor "get the needle."
A genuine softness enters Smith’s eyes when she speaks of Anita, who before her death was anxiously awaiting entrance into York College, where she planned to study social work.
Anita Smith’s dream was to become a teacher of autistic children. Three afternoons each week – when she wasn’t working at Wendy’s – she worked with autistic children with speech and behavioral problems at Quality Services For Autistic Children in Astoria.
Jacqie Hall, mother of the youngest Wendy’s victim, Jeremy Mele, said she "prayed" on the morning of the sentence that the jury would send Taylor to death row.
One year later, Hall waits for the day Taylor is put to death. The trial, the verdict and the death sentence affected Jeremy’s young brother, Joshua, so deeply that the teen transferred to a new school "to try to make a new start," Hall said.
Time hasn’t eased the pain of losing her son, Hall said.
"It’s so hard. It’s still so hard. It’s only started to sink in."
Broken Hearts and Broken Dreams
Jean Auguste was a happy man when he arrived at work on the last day of his life.
He had asked his brother, the evening before, to be the best man at his upcoming wedding to the fiancée he described as "the most perfect woman."
Auguste was excited about a promotion he just received – manager of the Flushing Wendy’s restaurant. He had dreams of going back to college, earning a degree in business and starting his own company.
Auguste’s fiancée, Linda Pardo, is trying today to put the pieces of her life back together. Auguste’s family said the year "has gone nowhere," and it feels as though the verdict is pronounced "always yesterday."
"He worked to be the best. He worked so hard for so long. This is not something that just heals," the brother said.
Benjamin Nazario was the rock that shouldered his family’s sorrow.
During courthouse conversations, Nazario smiled as he spoke of his brother, Ramon – the boss of family barbecues, doting dad and a man who just loved to dance, Nazario said.
Beneath the smiles and the memories there was always a great sadness that settled over Benjamin. He was the strength that saw his brother’s widow and his mother through the funeral, the waiting, the trial and the sentence.
"I still relive the [murder], the trial and everything," he said last week. "I relive it every day."
The rock crumbled shortly after Taylor was sentenced. He spent a month in the hospital for heart problems brought on by high blood pressure.
"The doctors said it was my heart," Nazario said. "Because I kept it all in for so long."
Nazario said he will be at Taylor’s execution with his brother’s son "even if they have to wheel me there."
Believe In Miracles
Patrick Castro, 25, played dead, a plastic bag covering his head as he laid on the floor of the basement freezer at the restaurant, listening to the screams of his co-workers pleading for their lives, and the shots that ended them.
Taylor didn’t realize that Castro had moved his head inside the bag, a move that saved his life. Castro survived, shot in the face. He managed to call 911 for help "for the others," and dragged the seventh victim, Ja Quione Johnson, 18, to the restaurant’s upper level, to await help. Castro is credited with helping save Johnson’s life.
Castro returned to his native Ecuador after the massacre, but came back to Queens to testify at Taylor’s trial. Through tears, he recalled for the packed courtroom the violent, heartless actions of the two killers.
Still visibly shaken 18 months after the murders, Castro returned to Ecuador after his testimony. He hopes to return to the U.S. to attend a college in New York in early 2004.
Johnson’s wounds were grave – he required two brain surgeries and massive rehabilitation to repair the damage he suffered when Taylor’s accomplice Craig Godineaux fired one shot into his brain.
Waiting For Justice
"He murdered my child – and her co-workers with no degree of humanity," Joan Truman Smith said.
"There is a special place waiting in hell for John Taylor."
Taylor’s accomplice in the massacre of the five Wendy’s employees and the attempted murder of two others, Godineaux, received five consecutive life sentences – without the possibility of parole.
Godineaux originally faced the death penalty, but became exempt under the current statute when he was declared borderline mentally retarded.
So Her Dream May Live On...
The Anita Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund was created by the folks at Quality Services For the Autism Community, (QSAC), to continue and preserve the dream of the only female victim of the May 2000 Wendy’s Massacre.
Both Anita and her mother, Joan Truman Smith, worked for QSAC, assisting autistic children. Joan Smith continues to work for QSAC.
QSAC spokesperson Perry Brown said the fund has, to date, provided scholarship awards to six young people, to assist them in their pursuit of careers in the field of developmental disabilities. Perry said the scholarship "allows Anita’s good will and determination to live on."
To make a tax-deductible donation to the Anita Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund, make checks payable to QSAC and mail to: The Anita Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o QSAC, 30-10 38th Street, Long Island City, NY 11103. For additional information on the fund, QSAC, or the autistic community, call Brown at (718) 7-AUTISM, ext. 16.