CAMBRIDGE – A Henry County jury on Thursday night found Shaun N. Taylor, 37, of East Falmouth, Mass., guilty of attempted murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm.
The Class X felonies carry penalties of six to 30 years in prison. Sentencing is set for March 15.
The charges stem from an Oct. 15, 2017, traffic stop on I-80 from which Taylor fled and subsequent shooting incident in the direction of Trooper Andrew Scott and manhunt south of Atkinson. Twenty-three shell casings were later found at the scene.
An Army veteran with two years of experience in Afghanistan, Taylor took the stand Thursday and described his post traumatic stress disorder and his life since getting out of the military. He said he had disabled veteran status as a result of his mental health.
“Some days I can barely remember what I had for breakfast; other days are more clear,” he said.
He said it was difficult for him to get to sleep. He also said he has difficulty standing or walking due to what appears on x-rays as a black mass on his lower spine.
He said his post-traumatic stress disorder was probably a factor in his divorce five months after he left the service.
He said he was stationed out of Fort Lewis, Wash., and remained in the state of Washington for two years after leaving the service. He decided to sell his home and move back with his parents in Massachusetts, which was where he was headed in October of 2017.
Taylor said after leaving the service, he maintained proficiency with an AR15 rifle. “One of my favorite things in Washington was to go to the national forest in a spot designated for shooting,” he said. He said at least once a month, he'd spend half the day shooting and the rest watching animals and enjoying nature.
Also on Thursday, James Spencer, a command sergeant major at the Rock Island Arsenal, was declared an expert in military marksmanship. He testified that it appeared to him the shots in Trooper Scott's squad car were groupings around illuminated areas on either side of the front of the vehicle as well as the driver's side of the car by the front door. He noted it was 170 to 175 feet from the area of the casings to the front of the squad car.
In closing arguments, Henry County State's Attorney Matt Schutte noted Trooper Scott sat in his squad for almost three minutes south of Atkinson before getting out and it was only then that he heard the pop of gunfire, indicating the shots were meant for the trooper and not just to disable his vehicle. He also noted the trooper heard the whizzing of bullets when he was 50 to 60 feet from his squad car, and that Taylor changed position twice while the squad car was stationary, but the officer was moving.
“If the defendant was shooting at the squad, why did he move twice?” he asked. “Because he was getting a better shot at Trooper Scott.”
Taylor's attorney Hector LaReau stressed his client's post-traumatic stress disorder and said Taylor was trying to talk to the officers and de-escalate the situation during the original traffic stop on I-80 from which he fled.
“He didn't want to engage with the police; he drove away scared. He didn't want to be found,” he said.
LaReau related how the shots at the squad car had been primarily grouped around the lights. He said shots sound the same at 20 yards as they do right next to your head and he noted that when Taylor turned himself in, he was within 20 feet of an officer before they noticed him.
“He could have killed all of them,” he said.
Taylor was also charged with disobeying a peace officer and fleeing/attempting to elude a peace officer, in addition to the two Class X felonies. LaReau told the jury he agreed they should find his client guilty of the traffic charges related to the initial stop. The jury retired to deliberate about 3 p.m. At about 7 p.m., they sent a note out that they had decided three of the four charges but were deadlocked on the fourth.
They were brought back to the courtroom and Judge Patton read an additional jury instruction on the importance of adhering to their beliefs while also trying to reach a verdict.
They rendered their verdict at 8:30 p.m.
About six officers with the state police remained in the courtroom when the verdict was announced, including Trooper Scott, and many hugs were exchanged. Schutte declined to speak for the officers, but said he was very thankful to the jury for taking time to reach a verdict.
“Obviously, I think it was the right verdict,” he added.