LOVINGSTON, Virginia (Reuters) - The blood of a missing 17-year-old Virginia girl along with signs of a violent struggle were found in the trailer of a man charged with her murder, a prosecutor said in opening arguments of the handyman’s trial on Friday.
But a defense lawyer for the accused man, Randy Taylor, 48, said there was no evidence of either a murder or an abduction.
Taylor is accused of abducting Alexis Murphy, a high school senior, in August 2013 while she was on a shopping trip, and then killing her. The case drew national attention and has riveted the close-knit mountainous region of western Virginia.
Nelson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Martin told jurors that Murphy’s blood was found on a shirt that had been balled up and shoved under a couch in Taylor’s trailer.
Martin said her hair extensions were found in the shirt, and a strand of Murphy’s hair was discovered on Taylor’s pillow, according to DNA evidence.
Murphy’s torn fingernail and part of an earring were found in the trailer’s carpeting, Martin said.
“All of this will show that a violent struggle occurred,” he told the jury of seven women and five men.
“Alexis Murphy will be a silent witness” to what happened to her through the evidence, he said.
Many of Murphy’s family members, who were seated in the public gallery of the Nelson County Circuit Court, wept as Martin detailed the evidence.
Martin called 18 witnesses as he opened the prosecution’s case, including Murphy’s mother and father who testified that she was a hopeful teenager looking forward to going to college. Like many teenagers, they said Alexis - who lived with her mother and grandmother - was glued to her cell phone.
When she didn’t return texts or calls the night she disappeared or the morning after, her mother - a postal employee who works nights - said she began fearing the worst.
“She always called when she was going to be late,” Laura Murphy said, sobbing into a handkerchief.
Although no body or other remains have been found, authorities have charged Taylor with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of abduction with intent to defile.
If convicted of all charges, Taylor could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Prosecutors contend that surveillance video at a gas station
shows Taylor opening the door for Murphy and talking with her on the night she disappeared, and that he was one of the last people to see her alive.
But defense attorney Michael Hallahan told the jury that nobody knew what happened to Murphy.
“There is no evidence of a murder and no evidence of an abduction,” Hallahan said in his opening remarks. Hallahan contended there was not enough proof to convict Taylor.
He said that another man might have been with Murphy that night and possibly could have harmed her.
Editing by Ian Simpson, Grant McCool, Sharon Bernstein and Gunna Dickson