Verdict can't erase anguish
For the moment jurors took to find their seats, Nadine Taylor cried and Eli Marc Meyers went numb.
"Not guilty" was read, and it took a second to register. Meyers gasped while his lawyer told him he'd be going home.
Taylor laughed, later saying she couldn't believe what she had heard.
Meyers regained his freedom. He's going back to work. He's riding motorcycles. He has his wife and his friends. But he said he's haunted by the guilt of knowing that what he did nine months ago at the very least contributed to the death of Taylor's husband, Earl.
The two men got into a fatal fight without even having known each other.
"I regret that the man lost his life," Meyers said. "His family. They're missing a part of his family."
Meyers, 46, of Burrell Township, Indiana County, spent nine months in the Westmoreland County Prison awaiting trial on charges that he killed Taylor, 43, of Mt. Pleasant, with his fists and booted foot on Dec. 19 at Lakeside Lounge, an exotic-dance club in Derry. Prosecutors were seeking a first-degree murder conviction, which would have left Meyers facing a life sentence.
Nadine Taylor said she left the Westmoreland County Courthouse in shock on Monday when Meyers was acquitted after a six-day trial.
Yesterday, she said she was mad at the jury and the criminal justice system. But she said she doesn't think a guilty verdict would have assuaged the grief she's felt since the night of her husband's death.
Part of her wants her husband's image to follow Meyers wherever he goes. The other part just wants her husband back.
"My husband was a wonderful man and a wonderful father. It's a great loss. He was my companion and the love of my life, and now he's gone," she said. "I'm 45 and I never thought I would grow old alone. I thought I would grow old with him and now he's gone."
A civil lawsuit Nadine Taylor filed earlier this year over her husband's death remains pending.
Earl and Nadine Taylor were married for 20 years. They raised two kids. He was a laborer who coached for a recreational basketball league.
In the nine months since Taylor died and Meyers went to jail, Nadine Taylor became a grandmother. The baby, Joseph Earl, was born last week as Meyers' trial continued. Earl Taylor, his widow laments, will never see his grandson nor will Joseph Earl know his grandfather.
"If I had to change anything, I wouldn't have even gotten out of my chair," Meyers said, reflecting on the night Taylor was bruised and bloodied before being pronounced dead at nearby Excela Health Latrobe Area Hospital.
Nadine Taylor said she had reservations about going to Lakeside Lounge for a Christmas party that evening. If she could go back in time, she said, she'd force her husband to stay away from the bar.
Witnesses testified at trial that Taylor became belligerent when bartenders stopped serving free drinks to him and his wife, whose father is married to the bar's owner. Toxicology test results showed that Taylor had a blood-alcohol content of 0.199 percent at the time of his death. He also had been taking anti-anxiety pills.
Taylor became entangled with several men trying to oust him from the bar after he erupted into a tantrum and punched a bartender, witnesses said. Before the melee, he'd tumbled and smacked his head on a table.
Meyers admitted to police that he punched Taylor and kicked at his head while he was down, but he said he believed the 300-pound man was getting up to retaliate.
Autopsy results list the official cause of death as blunt-force trauma to the head, face and neck with pre-existing heart problems being a contributing factor.
A forensic pathologist who testified in Meyers' defense theorized that Taylor died because of the initial struggle, during which his neck may have been squeezed by any of the men fighting, complicating blood flow to his already weakened heart. The explanation attempted to soften the prosecution's case that Meyers single-handedly beat and stomped on Taylor.
"I think the jury had total disregard for the law and for human life," Nadine Taylor said. "(Meyers') fate is now in God's hands."
Meyers offered an apology.
"I'm sorry for what happened and, for some odd reason, I hope good comes out of it," he said.
He talked about hosting a poker run benefit to raise money for Taylor's family.
"It was a shame what happened," Meyers said.
Nadine Taylor said she hopes Meyers can sleep at night. She said she can't.
As the family tries to recover, she said they know nothing will be the same.
"We have a lot of friends in our community," she said. "We will get through this but it will be very hard."