District Attorney George Barnhill said Friday he was surprised that Robert Lee Taylor pleaded guilty Thursday to malice murder in the death of Belinda Jo Bell, his ex-girlfriend, in December 2014, averting a trial that had been set for Dec. 14.
“We felt good going into the trial, and while we understand why he wanted to plead, we were still surprised,” said Barnhill. “We are happy with the resolution and that the victim’s family will not have to go through a lengthy trial of the case.”
Taylor received a sentence of life in prison after entering the guilty plea.
Jury selection had been set to begin Dec. 14 in Blackshear.
Taylor was indicted by the Pierce County Grand Jury in March, Barnhill said. He was charged with malice murder in the Dec. 22, 2014 death of Bell, who was shot four times at close range with a small caliber pistol while she was standing outside the Huddle House in Blackshear talking to Taylor, Barnhill said.
“Ms. Bell was working as a waitress (at the Huddle House) at the time of the shooting and had recently broken up with Taylor, ending an approximate five-year relationship between the two,” said Barnhill.
The Blackshear Police Department was on the scene of the shooting within four and a half minutes, according to Chief Chris Wright. Detectives Steven Wright and Robby Boatright were able to identify, locate and arrest Taylor at his residence within a half hour of the shooting.
Detectives Wright and Boatright recovered the murder weapon, a semi-automatic Ruger pistol from Taylor, and took an initial admission from Taylor, both of which were crucial to the case, said Barnhill.
Prior to the detectives finding Taylor, Barnhill said he had cut himself in what appeared to be a suicide attempt.
“The officers secured the scene and gave emergency medical aid to Taylor to stop the bleeding while waiting on EMS to arrive,” said Barnhill. “GBI Agent Dale Wiley assisted with the investigation and in preparing the case for trial with Assistant District Attorney Michelle McIntire.”
Barnhill said that with the trial scheduled Dec. 14, final pretrial motions had been set for Friday in Pierce County Superior Court.
“However, at court on Thursday, prior to hearing the final motions, and after lengthy negotiations during the last few weeks, Taylor entered a plea of guilty to first degree murder,” said Barnhill.
Judge Jeffery Kight, Superior Court of Pierce County, accepted the plea and sentenced Taylor to life in prison for malice murder.
“Under current Georgia Law, Taylor, who is 63 years of age, will not be eligible for his first parole hearing until serving a minimum of 30 years (age 93 in December 2044),” said Barnhill.
ADA McIntire especially commended the detectives of the joint Blackshear-Pierce County ACE (Accelerated Criminal Enforcement) Unit and their speedy response to the scene, said Barnhill.
“Their quick response and ability to determine the suspect’s name and location in the city is what solved this case and gave us the facts and evidence to successfully prosecute Taylor,” said McIntyre.