On the steps of Charleston's federal courthouse Thursday, civil rights groups joined forces with Charlotte-based activist John Barnett to denounce what they see as the unjust persecution of a McClellanville man implicated as a suspect in the disappearance of 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel.
The civil rights groups that joined Barnett included the South Carolina chapters of the National Action Network, NAACP and members of Bible Way Baptist Church.
Authorities have not affirmatively linked Timothy Da'Shaun Taylor, 26, directly to Drexel, who authorities suspect was abducted while vacationing in Myrtle Beach in 2009. Taylor remains jailed awaiting sentencing in an unrelated federal case in which he pleaded guilty to armed robbery charges. He faces at least 10 years in prison.
Barnett, founder of True Healing Under God, said in January he hoped to focus national attention on Taylor's plight. He originally pleaded guilty to state charges and was sentenced to probation after he admitted serving as a getaway driver in a 2011 McDonald's robbery.
In July 2017, a jailhouse informant told investigators that Taylor and his father abducted, raped and killed the New York teen, then dumped her body in an alligator pit near McClellanville. After the disclosure, prosecutors re-examined the robbery case and determined the sentence was too lenient, which paved the way for new federal charges.
Taylor's family and supporters contend this is a clear violation of double jeopardy. However, the dual sovereignty doctrine says an individual may be charged with the same crime by state and federal authorities.
Thomas Dixon, a North Charleston-based activist, said, "Timothy Taylor will be set free, and we're prepared to stand to fight, to march with this family to ensure he has the right and the ability to engage and embrace the American dream of life, liberty and happiness."
The groups chanted "Free Timothy Taylor!" and "No justice, no peace!" after a moment of silence to honor Drexel.
Taylor's mother, Joan Taylor, said Thursday that neither Taylor nor anyone else in her family have any knowledge about Drexel.
"We are not gonna stop fighting, whatever way this turns out," she said. "It was never about the robbery. It was about the disappearance of Brittanee Drexel."
She said investigators didn't thoroughly vet her son's alibi, which was that he was in school on the day Drexel disappeared.
Since he was indicted, authorities have acknowledged that, in addition to wanting a harsher punishment for Taylor's involvement in the robbery, it's also their aim to elicit information from him in hopes of solving Drexel's disappearance.