CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The man who pleaded guilty to a charge some say was a ploy to force him to give information on an unrelated missing person case can switch attorneys, a judge ruled.
Timothy Taylor filed a motion Thursday to fire his attorneys, according to court records. Judge David Norton said he would allow Taylor to replace defense attorneys David Aylor and Mark Peper when Taylor finds a new one, records state.
"Prosecuting someone for the same crime twice with an ulterior purpose is unfair and unjust, thus we will continue to support any decision Da'Shaun makes throughout our ongoing representation," Mark Peper said in regards to Taylor filing the motion.
Taylor pleaded guilty on July 12, 2017, to federal charges in a 2011 armed robbery at a Mount Pleasant restaurant. Taylor reportedly confessed to being the getaway driver in the robbery of a Mount Pleasant McDonald's.
The guilty plea was to have been part of a plea deal, but it is not clear whether the change of attorneys would affect that plea deal.
Taylor was to have been sentenced for that guilty plea in January, but the hearing was canceled at the last minute over what Peper described as "a matter of law."
The sentencing still has not occurred.
Taylor's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the federal indictment on the grounds "his rights under the double jeopardy, due process, and cruel and unusual punishment clauses of the United States Constitution have been violated by the subsequent indictment and prosecution of him in federal court for the same offense and on the same underlying facts as his previous state court conviction."
They say Taylor served five years -- one in prison and four on probation -- from a guilty plea on state charges for the same crime, and therefore should not face the double jeopardy of federal charges.
Federal prosecutors countered, saying they learned about the robbery while investigating the Drexel case and said Taylor's sentencing on state charges was "far below what his co-defendants received, particularly given his level of involvement, which justified a subsequent federal prosecution."
But civil rights groups including the National Action Network say the federal charges were imposed to compel Taylor to give them information about the disappearance of Brittanee Drexel.
Drexel, a New York teenager, went missing during Spring Break in the Myrtle Beach area in April 2009.
In the summer of 2016, an FBI agent testified in open court that Drexel was abducted, gang-raped at a "stash house" in the McClellanville area, shot after trying to escape, and then her body was fed to alligators.
The agent claimed a jailhouse informant accused Taylor and his father of being directly involved in Drexel's murder.
In multiple meetings with the FBI, Taylor denied killing Drexel.
At present, no one has been charged in her disappearance.
Peper told reporters after a hearing in July that Taylor was in school at the time the informant claimed he was involved in Drexel's death.
"He was in third period class in Lincoln High School the day that jailhouse rat says he was in this trap house in the middle of McClellanville, they know that is not correct," Peper said.
Taylor's mother, Joan, also said school records tell you "there in black and white" that her son was in school and did not leave school that day.
"Going back and forth to court, hearing the words of the FBI agent, the reason [Taylor] is being charged again for this robbery is that they feel he knows something about [the Drexel] case," she said.
National civil rights activist John C. Barnett, founder and president of the group True Healing Under God held a news conference in McClellanville in January, saying he visited Taylor in prison and realized Taylor had only one arm, the result of an accident when Taylor was 4 years old.
"But at the end of the day, I think what media has not done is shown that disability, that inability for him to literally grab up a precious female," Barnett said.