Trial details death of Pizza Hut deliveryman -
Published Friday, January 6, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:23 pm
Trial details death of Pizza Hut deliveryman

Christopher Taylor staggered to his feet.

He looked stunned, as if his mind was racing.

Dontavis McClain had just shoved Taylor into a vacant apartment near 89th Street and Sorensen Parkway, prosecutors say. In fact, he had just knocked the 5-foot-2-inch, 110-pound Taylor to the ground.

As Taylor got up, 16-year-old Bryton Gibbs turned off the lights in the apartment. In opening statements Friday of McClain's first-degree murder trial, prosecutor Molly Keane described what happened next:

Gibbs swung a butcher's knife in the dark - stabbing Taylor twice in the back. Taylor screamed, then collapsed.

As he lay there, McClain rifled through his pockets and took what little change remained.

McClain then grabbed two pizzas - and the two robbers ran out, leaving Taylor to die.

Prosecutors told jurors Friday that all of those actions are the ugly epitome of Nebraska's felony murder rule. Under state law, accomplices can be convicted of first-degree murder if someone is killed during the commission of a felony, such as robbery.

"They stole not only some money - a few dollars, a couple pizzas - they stole his life," Keane said.

As he listened from the front row, Taylor's father, Dan Taylor of Bellevue, held his wife's hand. He occasionally squeezed it as details emerged of the Sept. 10, 2010, death of his 33-year-old son, a pacifist who chose a job delivering pizzas rather than working in the computer industry.

McClain's family also lined the front row of the courtroom. McClain's trial - he refused a plea deal that would have required him to plead to second-degree murder - is expected to last till the end of next week.

McClain's attorney, Daniel Stockmann, emphasized to jurors that McClain, 20, didn't swing the knife, didn't even hold it. Gibbs -- who is serving 100 years in prison for killing Taylor -- was the coldblooded killer that day, he said.

"No doubt about who had the knife," Stockmann said. "No doubt about who used the knife. Bryton Gibbs is the one who's responsible for the death of Christopher Taylor."

Stockmann also called on jurors to scrutinize the credibility of the witnesses who will testify for the state. Two are receiving plea bargains - "though they're up to their necks in this," Stockmann said.

Keane said no one was into it deeper than McClain, who went by the nickname "Mississippi."

She told jurors it was McClain's idea to rob and "rough up" a pizza deliveryman that night. He and Gibbs had been hanging out in the parking lot because Gibbs didn't have a key to get into his mother's apartment at the Irvington Heights complex.

They had another problem: They didn't have a cell phone.

So they borrowed one from another teen, Larry Fountain. He and another teen grew suspicious as they overheard Gibbs order four pizzas and ask for change for $100.

Keane said questions raced through the teens' minds: Why would two guys need four pizzas? Why would Gibbs need change for $100?

One of the teens later told police he "had a bad feeling," Keane said.

"He was right to have that bad feeling."

The teens then watched Taylor drive up in his delivery vehicle and walk toward the vacant apartment, where Gibbs and McClain were waiting.

Minutes later, the teens saw Taylor stagger onto the sidewalk and collapse.

After bolting from the scene, Gibbs and McClain got a ride from a friend. They again didn't have a phone so they borrowed the driver's, Keane said.

At that point, Keane said, they called Fountain and asked him to retrieve the knife that Gibbs had flung in the grass outside the apartment.

"He refused," Keane said. "He wanted no part of this."

Stockmann called on jurors to focus on the "stunning indifference" several teens showed for Taylor. One teen even walked around Taylor and went to his apartment - rather than getting help for Taylor. The teen later told authorities he didn't help because Taylor was "just a pizza deliveryman."

"They knew Bryton Gibbs was going to roll, or rob, the pizza man,"

Stockmann said. "They watched it happen. They didn't do anything about it."

Contact the writer: Todd Cooper    |   402-444-1275

Todd covers courts and legal issues for The World-Herald.

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