The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 26, 2012

Man who pleaded guilty in Tanner attack wants to rescind plea

By Jean Cole

— One of three men charged in the kidnapping and beating of a Tanner couple in 2010 wants to rescind his guilty plea and stand trial instead.

Mario Lamar Taylor, 22, of Athens, had pleaded guilty April 27 to multiple felonies and was sentenced to serve a life sentence.

Taylor was accused — along with Joshua Ray Cowan, 28, of Elkmont and Damien Lamar Mitchell, 21, of Athens — in the attack on Shirley and Charlotte Haney in their south Limestone County home Oct. 12, 2010. Cowan had once done repairs at the Haney home. Both Taylor and Mitchell have said they were driving the getaway car, though investigators believed it was Taylor.

In a plea agreement reached by Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones, Taylor had pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree kidnapping (Class B felonies that carry a 20-year state prison sentence); two counts of first-degree robbery (Class A felonies that carry life sentences); one count of first-degree burglary (a Class A felony that carries a life sentence); and one count of third-degree burglary (a Class C felony that carries a 10-year sentence). Two counts of second-degree assault were dismissed.

Jones told The News Courier this week Taylor has hired a new attorney to ask the court to set aside his guilty plea.

As for Mitchell, Jones said his office expects to try him in March 2013.

Cowan had already reached a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office and was sentenced to serve 75 years for first-degree robbery and burglary and 50 years for third-degree burglary and two counts of second-degree kidnapping, which are to run concurrent with the 75 years.

The attack

The Haneys, both 71 at the time, 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 back yard. 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.