The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 8, 2013

Haney case defendant loses bid to dismiss guilty plea

By Jean Cole
jean@athensnews-courier.com

— One of three men who pleaded guilty in a 2010 attack on a Tanner couple has lost his bid to have his guilty plea dismissed and stand trial instead.

Mario Lamar Taylor, of Athens, pleaded guilty in April 2012 in the burglary, assault, robbery and kidnapping of Shirley and Charlotte Haney from their southern Limestone County home. Taylor plead guilty to two counts each of second-degree kidnapping and first-degree robbery and one count each of first-degree burglary and third-degree burglary and received a life sentence.

Taylor’s cohorts also pleaded guilty — one before him and one after — and have received lighter sentences.

Damien Lamar Mitchell, of Athens, pleaded guilty midway through his trial in February to two counts of first-degree robbery, two counts of second-degree kidnapping and one count of third-degree burglary in exchange for a 30-year sentence.

Joshua Ray Cowan, of Elkmont, entered a blind plea of guilty in March 2012 and was sentenced to 75 years in prison for two counts each of second-degree kidnapping and one count each of first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and third-degree burglary.

Cowan had once done repairs at the Haney home.

“Taylor had filed a motion (in December 2012) asking the court to set aside his guilty plea saying he did not understand what he was doing at the time,” Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones said Thursday.

During a one-hour motion hearing Thursday in Limestone County Circuit Court, Taylor’s attorney had called in a neurophysiologist who testified Taylor did not understand what he was doing when he entered the plea, Jones said. Taylor also took the stand on his own behalf and said he did not comprehend his actions in pleading guilty.

After hearing the arguments, Circuit Judge Robert Baker rejected Taylor’s request.

Prosecutors had said Mitchell drove the getaway vehicle the night of the attack and that Cowan and Taylor carried out the burglary, assault, kidnapping and robbery. However, Jones said Friday both Mitchell and Taylor had said they were driving. Under the law, it does not matter which one did it.

Attack

On Oct. 12, 2010, the Haneys told investigators they were sleeping when two men wearing Halloween masks awakened them about 1 a.m. The men pulled the two out of their bed, beat them on their heads and faces and forced them into a farm office in the backyard. One of the men held a knife to Charlotte’s throat and threatened to kill the couple unless she opened the safe, investigators said.

Charlotte told the men she could not recall the combination, and was struck in the back of the head with a hard object each time she tried to speak, investigators said. Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely said at the time of the suspects’ arrests the couple was pistol-whipped.  After shoving the couple into a bathroom and blocking the door with a desk, the suspects fled with at least $1,000 in cash and two handguns, authorities said.

Within 24 hours of the attack, Limestone County officers had arrested Taylor during a traffic stop, Mitchell at home and Cowan while he walked behind Bethlehem Church off Nuclear Plant Road. Investigators recovered two handguns and a shotgun, which had been hidden in the Clements community.

Shirley, the father of the Tanner Tractor Pull, died Feb. 6.