After shooting 22-year-old mother Whitney Gray from his vehicle in an act of road rage, Christopher Taylor cited his Army basic training for his response.
On June 13, a jury in Jackson County, Missouri, found Taylor guilty of first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action for the October 2016 shooting death of Gray in the city of Independence. Prosecutors previously had charged Taylor, 40, with second degree murder.
According to the Examiner in Independence, Taylor was tailgating Gray’s minivan and at a traffic light, the drivers shouted at each other, with Gray saying “My kids are in the car.”
Gray’s niece, 16, was in the passenger seat and threw a cup of clear liquid, striking Taylor’s SUV. That was when Taylor acted based on his Army training, he said later. He pulled out a loaded handgun and fired a shot into the minivan.
The bullet struck Gray in the upper chest, penetrated her right lung and breached a major artery before lodging in her spine.
Gray bled to death within minutes in front of her niece and her two sons, aged 3 years old and 8 months old, who were in the rear seats, the news report said.
In a 2016 interview with police following his arrest, Taylor said the incident was a “negligent discharge.”
“I didn’t want it to happen, I couldn’t believe it had happened, I panicked, I just didn’t know what the hell to do; I was scared,” he said.
In the interview with police, Taylor said that “he didn’t pull the trigger on purpose,” claiming that it was like basic military training.
“They react to contact — a trained response like muscle memory,” Taylor said.
Assistant Prosecutor Michael Hunt told Army Times on June 15 that Taylor claimed he had begun Army basic training in 2007 but had not completed the training due to what he characterized as a monetary issue. It was not confirmed whether Taylor had served.
Hunt argued in the trial that Taylor’s act was intentional and not the product of any known military or police training.
“How is it muscle memory that you’re sitting in traffic, you pull out a gun, reach across your body and fire,” Hunt said, in the news report. “There [is] nothing accidental about this. Guns just don’t accidentally discharge; they are fired.”
John O’Conner, the attorney for Taylor, argued that his client did not intentionally fire into Gray’s minivan.
His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 24.
Noah Nash is a rising senior at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. At school, he is the editor in chief of the Collegian Magazine and the digital director of the Collegian, Kenyon's newspaper.