Criminal proceedings were suspended Monday for a Lancaster man who allegedly decapitated two of his children and forced his two other children to view their slain siblings' remains, as the court declared a doubt as to his mental competency.
Maurice Jewel Taylor Sr., a 34-year-old personal trainer, appeared in a Lancaster courtroom Monday morning but did not enter a plea. A mental health court hearing and evaluation was scheduled for Jan. 6, and a status update was set for Jan. 13, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Taylor, who is being held in lieu of $4.2 million bail, is charged with two counts of murder for the deaths of his 12-year-old son, Maurice Jr., and 13-year-old daughter, Malaka, along with two felony counts of child abuse under circumstances or conditions likely to cause great bodily injury or death involving his 8- and 9-year-old sons.
The District Attorney's Office confirmed that the two older children were decapitated and that the two younger boys were shown their slain siblings and were forced to stay in their bedrooms for several days without food.
The victims were stabbed Nov. 29, and their bodies were still inside the family's home in the 45000 block of Century Circle when authorities arrived five days later at about 7:50 a.m., according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Ortiz.
The suspect's wife and their other two children were questioned by homicide detectives, who arrested the father on the evening of Dec. 4.
Taylor worked at a physical therapy center in Santa Monica but had been conducting training sessions via Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some of his clients contacted authorities when they could not reach him for scheduled appointments in the week leading up to the discovery of the victims.
Taylor faces a potential state prison sentence of 57 years and four months to life if convicted as charged, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
District Attorney George Gascon mentioned the case during a news conference last Wednesday without naming the defendant, as the newly-seated top prosecutor tried to make the case that his office will pursue appropriate sentences and is not letting criminals off easy by eliminating sentencing enhancements.
"People that commit a crime and where it is appropriate for us to prosecute because we have the admissible evidence to move forward and we believe that the person has committed a crime, they are going to be facing accountability," he said Wednesday. "And that accountability will be proportionate to the crime, and enhancements do not have anything to do with accountability."
Gascon noted that a defendant charged in a "horrific case in Lancaster" could face "more than a half a century" behind bars if he's convicted.
The murder charges against Taylor do not include special circumstance allegations that could have made him eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The district attorney said he has heard about the "hue and cry" about how the filing decision may "somehow provide less safety for our community in the case."
"What would be the utility to take somebody that is probably going to spend the rest of his life in prison to continue to add years and waste taxpayers' money on additional litigation?" he asked.
Some judges have refused to dismiss allegations that could lead to stricter sentences, but the D.A.'s office has the option to amend complaints to eliminate enhancements administratively.
As judges, prosecutors and victims of crime spoke out against or refused to comply with Gascon's change in policy, the new D.A. met with members of the community. On Friday, he issued a letter saying he would allow prosecutors to seek enhancements in crimes involving children, elderly victims or victims targeted because of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or mental or physical disability.
However, Gascon continued to insist that enhancements are not in the interest of justice and are "a principal driver of mass incarceration."
Pointing to research indicating that those who serve excessive sentences are more likely to commit new crimes, the district attorney reiterated his commitment to eliminate gang and dozens of other enhancements.
"They are outdated, incoherent and applied unfairly," he said. "Plus, no compelling evidence exists that they improve public safety."