June 1, 2000 NY Times

        Wendy's Massacre: Death Penalty Issue

        To the Editor:

        Re "In Queens, Shock at a
        Methodical Massacre of 5" (front
        page, May 26):

        When we consider the deliberate
        and calculated execution of these
        murders, the horrific last
        moments of the victims, the ready alternatives to their
        deaths and the lifelong anguish of their families, we are
        uniformly appalled.

        Shouldn't the more deliberate and calculated planning
        by the state, the similarly horrific last moments of the
        condemned killers, the ready alternatives to their deaths
        and the lifelong anguish of their families -- should the
        State of New York eventually execute the killers --
        cause us to be appalled, as well?

        Chicago, May 26, 2000

        To the Editor:

        The horrendous execution-style killing of five Wendy's
        employees in Queens (front page, May 27) provides the
        strongest case for the death penalty. If the suspects are
        convicted and do not receive the death penalty, the
        absolutist and indiscriminate position against capital
        punishment will have triumphed.

        Santa Fe, N.M., May 28, 2000

The Incident:

May 26, 2000

        In Queens, Shock at a Methodical
        Massacre of 5

        Police Call Robbery at Wendy's Planned in
        Ruthless Detail


           It was just past closing
           time Wednesday night
        at the Wendy's on Main
        Street in Flushing, Queens.
        Two men, one short and
        one tall, knocked at the
        locked front door, calling
        out for the manager by

        The 27-year-old manager,
        Jean Dumel Auguste,
        seemed to know the men,
        and he led at least one of
        them down to the store
        basement where he kept a
        small office near the
        employee changing rooms
        and a large walk-in
        freezer unit.

        Not long after, Mr.
        Auguste used the store's
        intercom system to
        summon his small night
        crew down into the
        basement for a meeting.
        Six employees made their
        way down the back stairs
        into the cool, musty

        It was a death trap.

        Minutes later, on one of
        the busiest strips in
        Queens, a massacre began
        to unfold -- a crime so
        grisly, so ruthless that it
        left some of the city's most
        experienced homicide
        investigators sickened.
        When it was over
        Wednesday night, all
        seven employees had been
        shot, all of them at close
        range, all in the head. Five
        were killed, including Mr.
        Auguste. A sixth was
        fighting for his life last night, and the seventh
        miraculously survived, his cheeks pierced by a bullet.

        "This is the most horrendous crime scene I've ever
        witnessed in my nine years as district attorney of this
        county, and as people know I've been to a lot of crime
        scenes," Richard A. Brown, the Queens district
        attorney, said yesterday, as hundreds of police officers
        hunted the city for two suspects, and as relatives,
        stricken with shock and grief, gathered at a nearby
        Sheraton Hotel.

        Investigators said yesterday that the crime appeared to
        have been carefully planned and timed, and they thought
        one of the gunmen either had worked at the restaurant or
        knew someone who did because of their knowledge
        about how the place operated. "They knew too much
        about Wendy's and how things worked there," one
        official said.

        Law enforcement officials said yesterday afternoon that
        they were pursuing several possible suspects, including
        a 36-year-old man, a former employee at the Wendy's
        in Flushing, who was arrested last summer in
        connection with a robbery at a McDonald's in Queens.
        The man, who had also worked at the McDonald's, was
        on probation at the time for a 1996 burglary of a
        Manhattan fast food restaurant.

        In the 1996 case, law enforcement officials said, the
        man used a cutting tool to break into the restaurant's
        safe. In the 1999 case, the man was released in August
        on $3,500 bail, but then did not show up for court
        appearances and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

        Police officials offered this description of the gunmen:
        One was a black man in his 20's, about 6 feet tall, who
        was wearing brown sweat pants and a brown
        sweatshirt. The other was a black man in his 30's, about
        5 feet 5 inches tall, who was wearing a black jacket
        and blue jeans. The Police Department's leading
        suspect, whose driver's license lists him as 5 feet 5
        inches tall, has been identified by at least one witness
        from an array of police file photos.

        Another witness, however, could not identify the man.

        Customers said yesterday that in the moments before the
        restaurant's closing time, there was no hint at all of
        what was to come.

        A young couple sat at a front table, quietly finishing
        their food. One employee went about emptying trash
        bins. Others wiped down tables and counters. At 10:55
        p.m., a regular walked in and ordered one of the night's
        last meals, a junior bacon cheeseburger, a baked potato
        with sour cream and chives and a salad.

        By 11 p.m., the store was empty but for seven
        employees, and the front door was locked. In the most
        haunting disclosure yesterday, investigators said that a
        passing police officer tried to stop in for a hamburger
        shortly after closing time but was shooed away. A
        senior police official said the officer reported that he
        was waved away by a man and a woman standing at the

        "We think it's very possible that could have been the
        robber standing there with the female," the official said.
        "The cop tells us there is a guy and a girl standing at the
        door saying we're closed. His sense was they seemed
        friendly. But could he have been standing there with a
        gun at her back? It's possible."

        Once in the basement, Mr. Auguste and the employees
        -- Ramon Nazario, 44; Anita C. Smith, 23; Jeremy
        Mele, 18; Ali Ibadat, 40; Patrick Castro, 23; and
        Jaquione Johnson, 18 -- were quickly subdued at
        gunpoint, police officials said. The gunmen used duct
        tape to bind hands behind backs and gag mouths. At
        some point, plastic bags were slipped over the heads of
        all seven employees, and they were forced into the
        large walk-in unit that combines a refrigerator section
        and freezer section. And then they began to shoot,
        apparently determined to leave no witnesses to their
        theft of as much as $2,000.

        It was unclear last night how the men made their
        getaway. Police officials said they thought the two men
        might have slipped out a side door. But a woman at a
        nearby bus stop told the police she saw two men leave
        from the front door.

        Over the next 90 minutes or so, two of the wounded,
        Mr. Castro and Mr. Johnson, worked themselves free.
        Mr. Castro called 911 from a basement telephone in the
        manager's office. "We're in the basement," he managed
        to say, despite the bullet wounds to his cheeks. "We're
        locked in."

        Mr. Johnson considered Mr. Castro his closest friend at
        Wendy's, Mr. Johnson's family said. The two
        sometimes walked home together. Now, Mr. Castro
        dragged Mr. Johnson upstairs, where they waited for
        the police by the front counter. Mr. Johnson, who had a
        bullet lodged near the top of his skull, was in Mr.
        Castro's arms. According to police investigators, Mr.
        Castro was in such a daze that he did not even realize
        he had been shot in the mouth.

        The first officers arrived at 12:52 a.m. The first
        paramedics arrived a minute later. Seeing two
        wounded men inside, the officers smashed the glass of
        the locked front door.

        As Mr. Johnson and Mr. Castro were taken to the
        hospital, the officers followed a trail of blood down the
        stairs to the basement, where they confronted a terrible
        carnage in the walk-in refrigerator. There was blood
        everywhere -- on the walls, on the floor, on boxes of
        food. Four of the employees were already dead. A fifth
        died on the way to New York Hospital Medical Center
        in Queens.

        Four of the employees were found inside the
        refrigerator part of the walk-in unit. One of the dead
        was found sitting on the floor outside the unit, propped
        up against the wall. An investigator said it appeared as
        if the man were taking a nap.

        One of the first Emergency Medical Service
        paramedics on the scene described his reaction to a
        superior. "He said to me, 'You trained for this, You're
        prepared for this. But you're never prepared for this.
        These were kids. They were teenagers. This was a
        massacre.' "

        Police officials said that based on shell casings found
        in the basement, they thought the weapon used in the
        shootings was a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun.
        Police said they were unsure whether more than one
        .380 was used in the attack.

        One senior police official said: "These certainly aren't
        the smartest guys in the world -- to shoot seven people
        to rob a Wendy's? I think they were going with the old
        gangster philosophy of dead men tell no tales."

        As the day wore on, and as the hours ticked by without
        an arrest, relatives were left to cope with the twin
        burdens of grief and fear.

        Yesterday morning, members of Jaquione Johnson's
        large family filed into the waiting room of the intensive
        care unit at New York Hospital Medical Center of
        Queens. Some roamed the halls, pacing and awaiting
        word from doctors, who were still operating.

        "Doctors said he can't move his right side at all, but he
        has sensation in it," his aunt, Regina Johnson, said. "His
        teeth are completely shattered."

        At the restaurant, a co-worker, Olga Purdie, whose 2
        p.m.-to-9 p.m. shift overlaps with the victims', rattled
        off their names and burst into tears. "Jean, Ramon, Ali,
        Jeremy, Anita, Jaquione," she sobbed. "They were my
        co-workers. They were my friends."

        Last night, two detectives were sent to Mr. Castro's
        home to protect their leading witness in the case. "We
        fear for his life," a friend said.

        Mr. Brown, the district attorney, spent three hours at the
        scene and promised "a full-court press" to arrest the
        culprits. The killings were the worst in the city since
        five Bronx relatives were shot and stabbed to death in

        Mr. Brown noted that the death penalty was one
        possible punishment for Wednesday's shootings, and
        Wendy's officials quickly pledged a $50,000 reward
        for information leading arrests.

        Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani pledged another $10,000.
        Mr. Giuliani did not visit the crime scene, but in a City
        Hall press conference, he seized on the shooting to
        defend his buildup of the Police Department.

        At the crime scene, city workers pumped out sewer
        lines, searching for a weapon, clothing, anything that
        might be a clue. Police dogs and their handlers
        methodically searched for some faint scent of the
        gunmen. A police van circled the neighborhood, its
        loudspeakers blasting pleas for witnesses to come

        A police helicopter hovered over the scene and, for
        reasons they would not disclose, officers searched for a
        green 1994 Nissan Maxima.

        Several factors hampered investigators yesterday. A
        security camera surveyed the front counter area of the
        store, but the videotape from the camera was missing.

        "If we were making an educated guess at this point, it
        would appear the tape was taken," an official said.

        And the sound of gunfire may have been muffled by
        work crews who were jackhammering a sidewalk just
        four doors down.

        "I heard nothing because of the construction," said
        Muhammed Khalid, manager of the Flushing News
        Outlet, a store four doors down from the Wendy's.

        Even so, officials said they had more than enough leads
        to pursue, and they expressed confidence that they
        would soon make arrests.

        "It may be today, it may be tomorrow, it may be later,"
        one senior law enforcement official said, "but we will
        get these guys. If we can't catch guys like this, then
        shame on us."

June 1, 2000

        An Atrocity's Mystery of Evil

        Open-and-Shut Case, but Suspect Is a Closed  Book

        By KEVIN FLYNN

            For eight hours after his
            arrest last week, John
        Taylor sat with investigators
        in a second-floor squad
        room at the 111th Precinct in
        northern Queens, unwinding
        the spool of his life, from his
        childhood in a Brooklyn
        housing project to what
        prosecutors charge was his
        role last week in the
        execution-style slayings of
        five people in the basement
        of a Wendy's on Main Street
        in Flushing.

        In a voice devoid of
        emotion, Mr. Taylor detailed
        the killings, explained how
        he had acquired the gun, a
        .380-caliber bought on the
        streets of Jamaica, and
        traced his escape route
        home, cab by cab,
        investigators said. But they
        said he never came close to
        answering the critical
        question that hung in the
        interrogation room all night:
        how a 36-year-old man who
        once displayed a devoted
        work ethic, a love for his
        children and an engaging
        smile had evolved into
        someone capable of the
        carnage that ended an armed

        "I spoke to a psychiatrist this
        afternoon, and even with all
        the information we have,
        who can say?" an
        investigator said. "Maybe he
        thought there was an easier
        way than working."

        Even as police and
        prosecutors amass what they
        characterize as an
        overwhelming volume of
        evidence against Mr. Taylor
        and his accomplice, Craig
        Godineaux, law enforcement
        officials acknowledge that
        they have gained little insight
        into what motivated the cold
        viciousness of the murders,
        aside from the pair's
        concession that they had
        sought to eliminate all

        John Taylor's previous
        crimes, one burglary and a
        few fast-food-store
        robberies that the authorities
        say he admitted to, were
        brazen, but never violent.
        The law-breaking began
        recently, only a few years
        ago, after Mr. Taylor had
        built a reputation as a dutiful
        manager who spent 14 years working in the same
        McDonald's franchise in Manhattan.

        Several investigators acknowledged that perhaps no
        amount of psychological theorizing could ever make
        sense of what happened in the Wendy's in Flushing last
        Wednesday. But they said the involvement of Mr.
        Taylor, who is thought to have been the architect of the
        crime, is particularly baffling. By all outward
        appearances, his crimes had been aberrations in an
        adult life unaffected by mental illness, drug addiction
        or burning grudges.

        He filed his income taxes. He paid Social Security
        taxes for his baby sitter. He took an accident prevention
        course last year sponsored by the New York
        Department of Motor Vehicles. He was known around
        his former home in Lefrak City as the sort of person
        who took his four children, two boys and two girls, 5 to
        13 years old, to the video store to rent movies like "The
        Big Green," a family soccer story; and Jackie Chan's
        latest high-action thriller.

        "John seemed like the kind of guy you would trust with
        your kids," said Edward Wills, who supervised him for
        8 of the 14 years that Mr. Taylor worked as an assistant
        manager at a McDonald's in Midtown. "I don't think this
        is the same John."

        Those who worked with Mr. Taylor in five fast food
        stores said that in recent years he had grown sullen and
        withdrawn, with few close friends. They said he
        became a strict manager, intolerant of small mistakes,
        even as he was accused several times by his bosses of
        filching cash.

        But, as the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown,
        tries to decide whether these killings warrant the death
        penalty, several investigators said they were most
        struck by Mr. Taylor's chilling ability to distance
        himself from the crime. On the day after the killings, for
        example, he went back to work at a clothing store in
        Queens, where he was a salesman. That afternoon, he
        called a 26-year-old woman he had begun courting just
        nine days before.

        The woman, a receptionist at a tax preparation business
        in Queens, said Mr. Taylor had seemed to be a decent
        person but his phone call, in hindsight, was hauntingly
        odd. He talked briefly about the Knicks, she said, and
        then he made plans to meet her for dinner either Friday
        or Saturday night.

        "You figure maybe somebody would act different if
        they just killed somebody," she said.

        Although authorities have said that Mr. Taylor has
        confessed to shooting one of the seven people shot that
        night, he has yet to enter a formal plea in the case. A
        trial to determine his guilt is still many months away.

        John Benjamin Taylor, who often uses the nickname
        Benji, was born March 10, 1964, in Kings County
        Hospital, the first of four children of John and Audrey
        Taylor. He, his younger brother, Vaughn, and two
        sisters were raised in an apartment in the Ocean Hill
        Houses, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

        His parents, who divorced in 1993 after being
        separated for at least 10 years, declined to be
        interviewed for this article, as did Mr. Taylor's lawyer,
        John Youngblood. But the parents have told others that
        they were stunned by their son's arrest.

        Mr. Taylor's mother, who now uses her birth name,
        Audrey Saddler, had recognized the Flushing Avenue
        Wendy's on the news as the place where her son had
        worked, according to Roy Earl, her boyfriend. Within
        hours, she was confronted by detectives seeking to
        question Mr. Taylor.

        "I tried to comfort her and things like that, but she's still
        in shock," Mr. Earl said outside Ms. Saddler's building
        on East 23rd Street in Manhattan.

        After his arrest, Mr. Taylor spent hours talking to
        Detectives Louis Pia, Brian Quinn and Elizaabeth
        Curcio. By his own account, Mr. Taylor has always
        been closer to his father. He moved from his mother's
        apartment in Brooklyn to his father's apartment in
        Lefrak City in 1982 after graduating from East New
        York Vocational High School. He did not attend the
        ceremony, he told investigators, because he did not
        have the money for a cap and gown.

        Mr. Taylor told detectives that the move was prompted
        by an argument with his mother, who feared he was
        involved in gang activity and might lure his younger
        brother into trouble. But residents of the Ocean Hill
        Houses said they recalled that, during an era when gang
        violence in the projects was growing, John Taylor was
        routinely seen walking off to work in the uniform of a
        fast food worker.

        For years, John Taylor seemed to be the more stable of
        the two brothers. While John was working as an
        assistant manager at a McDonald's at 34th Street in
        Manhattan, his brother, Vaughn, was being arrested
        repeatedly for minor crimes in Suffolk County, where
        he lived. Since 1992, Vaughn Taylor has been arrested
        more than three dozen times, according to police
        records, in most cases on charges of petty larceny or
        drug use.

        Mr. Taylor's relationship with both of his parents has
        deteriorated in recent years.

        Last summer, when he left jail after his arrest on a
        robbery charge, Mr. Taylor filed a complaint with the
        police, accusing his father of having stolen all the
        furniture from his Lefrak City apartment while he was

        He also told police he had not seen his mother in at
        least two years. Mr. Earl said Ms. Saddler kept
        pictures of her other children, but not of John.

        In the fast-food industry, in which workers often change
        jobs frequently, Mr. Taylor was a study in permanence,
        commuting daily for years from Queens to his job as an
        assistant manager at the McDonald's at 341 Fifth
        Avenue, near 34th Street, in Manhattan. He was
        punctual and polite, and several friends recalled that he
        talked often of owning his own store.

        But something seemed to change in 1996. There were
        whispers among co-workers that Mr. Taylor had placed
        ghost employees on the company payroll. He was
        transferred to another location at 22 East 42nd Street,
        although Mr. Wills said the only problem had been that
        Mr. Taylor's performance had slumped a bit and he
        wanted to give him a new challenge.

        Several months later, Mr. Taylor was discovered at the
        Fifth Avenue store at 6 a.m., trying to break into the
        safe. Mr. Taylor, who said he needed the money for his
        children, was sentenced to five years' probation. It was
        his first offense.

        By 1998, he was working as an assistant manager at the
        Wendy's in Flushing. Some former employees said he
        was pleasant to work for, but authorities said he was
        caught stealing in May 1999 and transferred to another
        Wendy's in Jackson Heights for several weeks.

        At the same time, the police say they believe that Mr.
        Taylor, armed with a starter's pistol, embarked on a
        spree in which he robbed or tried to rob five fast-food
        restaurants in Queens, beginning with a Burger King at
        78-03 Queens Boulevard. In that incident, on June 15, a
        supervisor went for the phone to call police and the
        robber ran off.

        "I guess we were lucky," said Edward Bryck, the store
        manager, "because this guy doesn't seem to be playing
        with a full deck."

        Eight days later, Mr. Taylor was arrested, the police
        said, after he robbed a McDonald's in Sunnyside for the
        second time in four days.

        He was held until August, when he posted $3,500 bail
        and returned home to Lefrak City to find that his
        apartment had been emptied of furniture, the authorities

        Neighbors said he still had a job, however, as a
        manager at a Wendy's on Queens Boulevard in
        Elmhurst. One neighbor, George Gross, said Mr.
        Taylor amiably helped his daughter get a job at the
        same store, but she soon found him unsettling.

        "She never complained about anybody the way she
        complained about him," he said. "She just said: 'He's
        not right. He is too serious.' "

        Last October, within a few weeks, Mr. Taylor was
        evicted from his apartment in Lefrak City and
        dismissed from his job at Wendy's, the authorities said.
        At the same time, out on bail in his robbery case, in
        which prosecutors were pushing for a 12-year prison
        sentence, he failed to show up for court.

        He then hid in plain sight, taking a room at $85 a week
        in a private house on 171st Street in Jamaica, only three
        miles from Queens Supreme Court, where a bench
        warrant was issued for his rearrest. His landlady, Ruth
        Hancock, said that during his first weekend at her
        home, Mr. Taylor's children came to visit him.
        Otherwise, she said, he lived quietly and neatly and
        paid his rent promptly.

        He quickly found work a few blocks away, first at a
        leather goods store and later as a salesman at SC&R
        Clothing, Mr. Taylor told detectives. He and Mr.
        Godineaux were both working at the store last week
        when, the police say, they robbed Wendy's of $2,400
        and left seven people for dead in the basement.

        The next day, Thursday, Mr. Taylor showed up for
        work, leaving at 7:30 p.m. to watch the Knicks game.

        The following morning, according to Mr. Taylor's
        statement to police, he heard his name broadcast on
        television as a suspect in the killings, and he decided to

        But first, in an unusual move for a suspect in a multiple
        murder, he called in sick at the clothing store, said the
        owner, Anna Biton. She said he told her his father had
        died and he had to bury him in South Carolina.

        He then went to the home of his brother's wife in
        Brentwood, N.Y., where he was arrested that day.

        On the way back to Queens, Mr. Taylor began telling
        the first of several accounts of the killings, a law
        enforcement official recalled. It was a story full of
        facts, but one that shed little light on how Mr. Taylor
        had come to participate in such violence, the official

        Another investigator on the case said he could not
        imagine any account that would adequately explain the

        "If I could think and understand how someone could do
        something like that," he said, "then it's time to quit."