(Pictured) Accused murderer Kaitlyn Danielle Taylor being escorted into the courthouse on Tuesday by Benton County Jail Administrator Jerry Wood.
Gruesome testimony led to Judge John Whitworth’s decision to bind the Gene and Celeste McDaniel murder case over to a grand jury after a preliminary probable cause hearing on Tuesday morning. The witnesses’ testimonies were very detailed.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Hedge called multiple witnesses to corroborate the state’s decision to charge Kaitlyn Danielle Taylor in the slayings. From the initial Camden Police officer on the scene to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) agents, the testimony as to how the couple was found brutally murdered in their home on Vicksburg Avenue the morning of March 23 was compelling.
Out of respect for the family, the details of the murders are too graphic for publication, but it is sufficient to say that this crime was committed with much malice.
Some of the particulars that came out of the testimonies included a bullet found in a dog bowl at the neighbor’s home directly across from the McDaniel’s residence, a gun and knife found near one of the deceased bodies which is being tested as the instruments used during the murders, and a bag found with Taylor the day of the murders, containing a purple shirt with red colored stains.
In other testimony, Jonathan Craven admitted to picking Taylor up on the side of the road near the intersection of Dogwood and Cherokee Avenues around 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, March 21. Craven said he noticed a woman in “short shorts” walking down the street with a couple of bags. He and his friend were driving by in his white 1996 Toyota Pathfinder when they pulled over and asked her if she needed a ride. She allegedly climbed into the back of the vehicle. Craven testified that Taylor ended up staying the night with him at his home, but he noticed her story changed several times and he was concerned about a severe cut she had on her pinky finger, so he asked where he could drop her the following morning. At the time, Taylor reportedly said she had contacted someone to pick her up at the laundry mat behind Pizza Hut. Craven said he found out later that she had in fact contacted Bart Johnson to pick her up.
One of Celeste McDaniel’s co-workers, Christie Maness had one of the day’s most emotional testimonies as she told of her love for the couple. Maness was responsible for calling law enforcement that fateful day in March. After Celeste did not show up for work, Maness said she knew instantly something was wrong and went to the McDaniel home only to find both cars still parked in the garageand the house locked. After not being able to gain entry, Maness called 9-1-1. Maness said that Celeste told her previously, “If anything should ever happen to me, you know where to look first.” Maness testified that Celeste was speaking about her granddaughter, Kaitlyn Taylor. Maness said as recent as the Thursday prior to the murders, Celeste was concerned with Taylor’s possible usage of drugs. Maness also testified that on several occasions, Celeste showed up at work with injuries reportedly caused by Taylor.
After hearing final testimony by TBI Special Agent Joseph Hudgins, Jr. as to questioning Taylor after the discovery of the murders, Assistant Public Defender Paul Hessing asked specific questions about evidence taken from the scene. Some of those items included a towel, quilt and t-shirt all stained with what appeared to be blood. Hudgins said all items are still being tested and results are not in yet.
After the completion of the morning’s witnesses, Judge Whitworth said, “This is a probable cause hearing and there is enough circumstantial evidence with both Mr. and Mrs. McDaniel deceased at the scene. Ms. Taylor admits that she was in the home according to the timeline and she had some kind of confrontation and she received treatment for it the next day.” He continued, “She made false statements when she again mentioned the confrontation. I think there is enough evidence to bind the case over to the grand jury for second degree murder.”
Immediately, Hessing asked for Taylor’s $500,000 bond to be reduced under the second-degree charge. His request was denied.
Due to COVID–19 Supreme Court mandates, the hearing was a closed session, allowing only select media with prior written approval inside. After the hearing, Hedge stated that while the Benton County Grand Jury would normally meet on June 15, due to court delays associated with COVID–19, the earliest potential date for the next grand jury to be convened could occur in July, but no definite date has been announced at this time.
See full coverage in this edition of The Camden Chronicle.