From marijuana to murder: How a chance bus-station encounter led to murder

JeJuan Taylor, a Riverside High graduate and Duke University employee, was fatally shot on April 18, 2013.  Four people were charged in his death, and the first related trial started this month.
JeJuan Taylor, a Riverside High graduate and Duke University employee, was fatally shot on April 18, 2013. Four people were charged in his death, and the first related trial started this month.

Hope Farley was nervous, she said, as she sat talking to a girlfriend on a cell phone, waiting to rob a person she described as a small-time drug dealer.

Two men were hiding behind a burgundy car. One was holding a gun, she said. A fourth person was waiting in a getaway car.

Farley didn’t need the money, she said. She had an apartment. She worked at McDonald’s and Bojangles'.

“I am not desperate for no money,” she testified in Durham County Superior Court, her ankles shackled out of the jury’s view. “I really did this to please someone else because they needed help, and I got myself in a whirlwind of trouble.”

A whirlwind that began with a chance encounter at a bus station and left a 19-year-old who worked at Duke University dying in a parking lot.

One person pulled the trigger. Four people, all 19 to 21 and one of them an N.C. Central University student, were charged with murder.

Last week, Farley, now 24, sat across the courtroom from Thomas Clayton — the man she knew only as Tom Tom when they ran into each other at the bus station nearly five years ago — as she testified at his trial. Clayton, 26, faces murder, robbery and other charges.

Clayton is the first defendant in the April18, 2013, fatal shooting of JeJuan Taylor Jr. to go to trial.

The testimony of Farley, who is cooperating with prosecutors, opens a window on fatal street crimes — homicides tied to robberies, drug and gang disputes — in Durham. It is also an example of multiple people charged in a homicide in which there is only one shooter. There are 54 people currently charged with 18 homicides where two or more people are accused.

Hope Farley.jpg
Hope Farley

Fourth suspect

In 2013, Clayton, Farley and Rakeem Best, then an N.C. Central student, were charged with murder in Taylor's death.

Under state law, anyone who commits a dangerous felony, such as armed robbery, that leads to a death can face a first-degree murder charge.

The fourth defendant, Timothy Moore, whom Farley knew as Little Mark and who she said shot Taylor, wasn’t charged until 2016.

Taylor's death is the city's third oldest homicide case with defendants waiting for trial.

Clayton and Best were set for trial in June 2016, Assistant District Attorney Jim Dornfried said. The trial was postponed after police connected a palm print on the driver's side door of Taylor's car in 2013 to Moore in June 2016.

In May 2016, two months before police charged him in Taylor's 2013 death, Moore was charged with killing a store clerk, a father of six, at a convenience store on Broad Street. Another clerk was shot in the robbery.

Timothy Moore

The Police Department declined to explain why it did not connect the palm print to Moore until three years after Taylor's killing, even though Moore had been arrested, and presumably fingerprinted, multiple times before and after the 2013 homicide.

“These are active, ongoing cases and we can't comment on them at this time,” Police Department spokeswoman Kammie Michael said.

1,791 days in jail

Clayton has spent more than 1,791 days, nearly five years, in jail waiting for his trial on what is currently a $600,000 secured bond.

After the palm print resulted in a trial continuance in 2016, a new date was set for 2017. It was postponed after Moore’s attorney, his third in this case, made a motion to withdraw from the case. Two previous attorneys had also withdrawn, citing conflicts of interest.

Hannah Autry, an attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, was then appointed to serve as Moore’s indigent counsel.

Also prolonging the case was a move by prosecutors to try all the remaining defendants together, which some defense attorneys fought. As the case moved toward trial early this year, prosecutors then sought to sever the cases because of a witness statement that could not be legally used against all three co-defendants at trial, Dornfried said.

Thomas Clayton

'Care and caution'

Before Farley testified, Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith told the jury she was testifying under an agreement with prosecutors in exchange for reduced charge.

“Examine her testimony with great care and caution,” Smith told the jury. If you believe it, you should treat it the same as other evidence, he said.

Farley’s plea deal downgraded her charges that included murder to second-degree murder. She is serving a maximum term of 13 years 6 months. If Clayton and the other defendants are found guilty of murder, they face an automatic sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

In his opening statement Dornfried said Clayton wasn't the shooter, "but the evidence will establish this was his plan," he said. He got the conspirators together, arranged transportation and drove the getaway car, Dornfried said.

Defense attorney Daniel Meier, who hasn't started putting on evidence, implied that others possibly came along and killed Taylor and that police had tunnel vision after getting Farley's cooperation.

“Once she told the state what they wanted to hear, that is pretty much what they ran,” with, Meier said.

Rakeem Best

'We got cool'

Farley met two of her co-defendants the day of the fatal shooting, but said she had known Clayton since about 2012, when they worked at McDonald's together.

“We got cool,” Farley said.

The two stopped hanging out regularly, but reconnected about a month before Taylor was killed after Farley started a second job at Bojangles' with Clayton’s girlfriend.

On April 18, 2013, the day of Taylor’s killing, Farley ran into Clayton who stopped by the downtown bus terminal in his girlfriend’s gray Isuzu Trooper. Farley said she got in the SUV and they talked for about 15 minutes. when he pulled out a gun from the center console and showed it to her.

Clayton said someone had given it to him, but didn’t say why, Farley testified.

Clayton also picked up Moore, who was introduced to Farley as Little Mark., and drove them to Best's apartment.

Best, the NCCU student, lived at Campus Crossing on East Cornwallis Road, Farley said. At the apartment, people were playing video games, smoking marijuana and drinking, she said.

Farley wasn’t sure if Best and Moore knew each other before, but she was told they were from the same set of a Bloods gang, she said.

The conversation turned to robbing somebody to get some “fast money,” Farley said. Clayton had financial trouble, Farley said.

Initially, they sought to rob a drug dealer Best knew, Farley said, but that dealer backed out of a meeting. Then Farley suggested they reach out to Taylor, whom Farley knew through her sister’s boyfriend.

Farley had once stored some of her clothes at Taylor’s house, and some of the things, including her sneakers went missing. Clayton’s brother had also had a run in with Taylor, she said.

Initially, Farley told Taylor she'd meet him at a Cook Out restaurant, but they changed the meeting to Duke Manor apartments on South LaSalle Street. They heard another man’s voice in the background when she called Taylor to let him know about the change, Farley said.

Clayton decided to load the gun, Farley said. He gave the gun to Best and told him not to use it unless he saw a gun, she said.

The plan was for Farley to go up to the car and pay for the marijuana, she said. Best and Moore then planned to push her out of the way and rob Taylor, she said.

Mercedes and marijuana

Taylor, who graduated from Riverside High, loved his two-door silver Mercedes, said Daron Jones, a friend who worked at a Duke University café at the time Taylor worked in Duke’s parking department.

Duke University says it has no record that Taylor was an employee. It is possible he was employed by a vendor or contractor on the Duke campus, a Duke official said.

Taylor also sold marijuana to “a very small circle of people,” Jones said.

On April 18, 2013, Taylor was driving, Jones was in the back seat and another woman was in the front passenger seat, Jones testified. They planned to go to Duke’s campus to hang out with friends.

Taylor started getting phone calls and told the others they were going to stop at Duke Manor, Jones said.

Taylor showed up at Duke Manor around 9 p.m. He backed into a parking space near Farley, who was sitting on stairs talking on the phone.

Taylor showed Farley the marijuana, she said. She started counting out $200 in $20 bills.

“When I was counting the money out, Mark and King (Moore and Best) came from around the car,” Farley said, and a girl in the passenger side “screamed a little bit.”

Taylor put the car in drive.

Moore ran up to the car and stuck the gun through the window as Taylor was rolling it up, Farley said.

“So when the car started catching speed, his feet tumbled,” Farley said. “His arm caught the car. He started shooting, which caused his body to fall.”

The car crashed into a fence, and Best told her to run, Farley said.

Best and Farley ran back to the gray Trooper, she said, where Clayton was sitting. Farley was still on the phone with her girlfriend.

"I was like, 'Red, oh my God, they just shot him," Farley said. "And Tom Tom said, 'Get the f--- off the phone.'"

Clayton kept asking about the gun, Farley said. Best told Clayton that he had given the gun to Moore, who said “Oh my brother is DOA. I got it,’ ” Farley said.

They weren’t sure where Moore was, Farley said. Maybe he was hurt in the crash into the fence.

After the shooting, Clayton drove Best and Farley back to Best’s apartment, where a friend picked Farley up that night.

'Shake it off'

Days passed and Farley said she went to work and tried to “shake it off.” At Bojangles' she learned Clayton’s girlfriend’s Isuzu had been picked up by homicide investigators.

Farley left work and called her mother, Yvette Farley, who lived in Oklahoma. Hope Farley told her mother what happened, and her mother gave her 24 hours to turn herself in.

During the conversation, Farley talked about killing herself and a threat from another person involved, Farley’s mother testified.

“She wanted me to know she loved me in case she didn’t talk to me anymore,” Yvette Farley said.

Farley’s mother waited two hours before she called police and gave them directions to the house where they found and arrested her daughter.

Testimony is scheduled to continue at 10 a.m. Monday.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges