I first ‘met’ Taylor Wells years ago. I came to know him well enough to accept his calls from a Florida prison. I came to know his advocate Beth Cioffoletti. Beth and I have since become cyber-friends who often disagree on politics but who are united in believing Wells should not serve more time for his role in a night of crime. Taylor is gifted in the arts, and that night not only derailed a potential career in the arts, but also the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution.
Why am I writing about this at my arts site? I can count some of the young people I’ve come to know who made poor choices and ended up in the criminal justice system. With few exceptions, each one of those young people was gifted artistically in some way. In Taylor’s case, he’s gifted at visual art and writing. I’ve seen his drawings and read his words. I returned the records he sent me years ago, but I remember his drawings clearly.
Until one fateful night in 1993, Taylor had a clean record. He was in high school, and had just passed his 18th birthday. He was working part-time at a fast food restaurant, living in a cheap apartment by himself. He had his whole life ahead of him.
He had a crush on a girl. That girl had an older brother who had some very sketchy friends. Taylor became friendly with these people in what one legal document draft described as “a subculture of drugs and crime.”
Ultimately Taylor, the group of people surrounding the “crush”, and a group of young men rumored to have large amounts of marijuana converged.
Some of the young men Taylor was hanging with told him they wanted to go “pick up some weed.” He had a car. They needed a ride. He gave them one. In the course of the night’s events, two of the men who went to the house had a gun. One, known as “Sanchez”, murdered a young man named David Codgen in cold blood. Taylor didn’t know Sanchez’s history—Sanchez was already being sought on charges of murder in the state of New York.
While some of the men Taylor gave a ride to were in the house robbing the residents, Taylor was outside in his car. He could hear the ocean. He was parked a distance away from the house. He had no idea what was going down and by the culprits’ later admissions, Taylor had no idea what the men really had on their mind when they asked him for a ride.
I read everything I could get my hands on related to this case. Some who either plotted the crime or actually entered the house that night were scheduled to be released long before Taylor could be. One of the defendants brought to trial, a man who actually had a gun in the house that night, said, “He [Taylor] was completely in the blind and I left it that way because I didn’t think he would drive me if he knew what we were involved in.”
An undercurrent not noted at trial involves Taylor’s own position in the social ring he was in. There was no way he was going to stand up to these men who were older and far more street savvy. To defy them would have put his own safety at risk. Toss in ineffective counsel at Taylor’s trial and you end up with the least culpable in the crime serving one of the longest sentences.
Did Taylor commit a wrong that night? By the law of felony murder, yes, he did. In Florida, the hand of one is the hand of all. He didn’t have a gun. He killed no one. He didn’t plot the crime. His offense is that he made a very bad decision to give these men a ride to the residence where the marijuana was allegedly available.
The horrific events of that night can’t be understated. A young man lost his life. His family has missed him at every major holiday and on every common day in their lives. Justice was done. The culprits were found. But the man who received one of the harshest sentences and absolutely no mercy from the court is Taylor Wells who is also the man who played the smallest role in that night’s events.
I have seen so many young people who are gifted end up in dire circumstances. I’m not sure why this is the case. I am sure that the time Taylor has spent in prison, along with the fact the system has his parole case entangled in red tape, warrants remedy by authorities who are able to do something about it.
I wrote about Taylor’s case for a long time until other advocates were brought in and asked me to stop while they worked on a possible remedy. I’m assuming those efforts were futile. I should disclose I have never received benefits or compensation for writing about Taylor’s case or others I consider miscarriages of justice.
In early 2018, the Florida Commission on Offender Review made a ruling on Taylor’s case. Beth explained the results in an email to me. The FCOR determined “that Taylor does not merit parole and must spend 55 more years in prison. He cannot reapply for parole for 7 more years, being that his PPRD (proposed release date) is now 2073.”
Beth included excerpts from a current legal document being prepared about Taylor’s case:
“Although Wells was found guilty of first degree murder, he did not kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim. He was convicted as an accessory for providing transportation for two of the codefendants who participated in the underlying burglary/robbery. Wells had no interaction with the murderer, he was not present when the murder took place, and could not have foreseen it. Codefendant Sanchez, the actual murderer, acted on his own volition. Only later was it discovered that Sanchez was at the time fleeing murder charges in New York; thus evidencing a propensity to kill.”
“As noted by the Agent Tod Goodyear, in his letter supporting Wells’ release, “he did not have any prior knowledge that the incident would end violently believing that they were only going to take the marijuana and leave.” Mr. Goodyear goes on to state that Wells shouldn’t be in prison when more culpable codefendants have been released and supports having Wells’ sentence commuted.”
Major Goodyear served 30 years in law enforcement and received accolades for his work.
Taylor went to prison in 1994. His record there is one of an inmate who successfully advanced his education, worked within the prison system, repeatedly and genuinely expressed remorse in formal documents, and contains no infractions or bad behavior.
If ever there was a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, the approach of the state in the case of Taylor Wells is a textbook example. Article 1, Section 17, of the Florida Constitution mirrors the US Eighth Amendment.
Ed. Notes: Beth has established a fundraiser to help with Taylor’s legal expenses and another website offering in-depth details about his case.
The featured photo shows Beth Cioffoletti (left) with Taylor Wells (center) and Taylor’s mom.
(Kay B. Day/Sept. 10, 2018)