"I ask that people keep the family of Alexis Murphy in their prayers," Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Martin said.
By Barrett Mohrmann
For almost 10 months, Laura Murphy just wanted to speak with the man accused of abducting her daughter.
After the jury found 48-year-old Randy Taylor guilty of first-degree murder Thursday, she had her chance.
Nelson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Martin called on Laura Murphy to express the pain brought on by her daughter’s disappearance before the jury was tasked with considering Taylor’s sentence.
“It has been a living hell for us,” she said. “This was her most important year.”
Before she vanished, Murphy attended a summer volleyball camp with plans of serving as the team’s co-captain at Nelson County High School. After graduation, she wanted to play on the college level and planned to attend Longwood University, Radford University or Lynchburg College.
But, the night of Aug. 3 tore those plans apart.
“The seventeenth [of May], she would be graduating,” Laura Murphy said.
After she spoke that simple sentence, a levee holding back nine months of suffering broke. Murphy’s mother sobbed on the witness stand, while family members wept and some had to leave the courtroom.
Upon hearing his verdict read, Randy Taylor reacted as he had throughout much of the trial — calm and collected, occasionally resting his chin atop a hand.
After hearing Laura Murphy’s testimony, he sprang from his chair to dash out of the courtroom and immediately was surrounded by Nelson County Sheriff’s deputies.
“She’s a strong woman, and I’m glad she got up there,” Angela Taylor, Alexis Murphy’s aunt, said of her sister. “I’m glad he got to see how emotional it was. I’ve had to sit with my sister for the past ten months being without a child.”
After court adjourned Thursday, family and friends seemed to give a collective sigh of relief. Dressed in pink — Alexis Murphy’s favorite color — they exchanged tight hugs before moving on to deputies and FBI agents, offering more hugs and thanks.
“We could stand here all day and not give enough thank you’s,” said Trina Murphy, great-aunt to Alexis.
Outside the courthouse, Trina Murphy praised both law enforcement and the Nelson County community that surrounded the family with support and love.
Pink ribbons still hang on signposts, mailboxes and doors. Along U.S. 29, a church bears the sign “Keep praying for Alexis Murphy,” a statement echoed by the prosecutor.
“I ask that people keep the family of Alexis Murphy in their prayers,” Martin said.
Wednesday afternoon, Trina Murphy and Angela Taylor went to McDonald’s at the Liberty gas station, where surveillance footage last captured the missing teenager.
During the lunch recess, the two discussed the case when a woman perked up at a nearby table.
“Are you talking about the Alexis Murphy case?” she asked.
As the family introduced themselves, the woman flung her arms around their necks for a hug.
“I pray for you every day,” she said in a hushed voice.
Alexis Murphy’s disappearance marks one of the most high profile cases in Nelson County’s history, and drew droves of kind, supportive people.
Businesses donated pink flowers and ribbons for candlelight vigils. Neighbors and friends brought weeks of meals to the family immediately after Alexis Murphy vanished. Residents organized searches, scouring vast stretches of U.S. 29.
With so much support from the community, the Murphys now hope to return the favor.
“We’re immediately starting to build Alexis’ legacy. We will not let her die in vain,” Trina Murphy said.
The family plans to create a scholarship in her honor to help young women get a college education. Trina Murphy said they also would like to create a public park in Nelson County to memorialize her niece.
And on May 17th, Nelson County High School will award Alexis Murphy a diploma, which her older brother Avery Murphy will accept during the graduation ceremony.
“We’ll just have a big party and celebrate as if she was graduating,” Angela Taylor said. “Those opportunities were taken away from us, so we’ll do what we can.”
After the trial and the party fade, the gap where Alexis Murphy should be will remain.
Her mother will not watch her spend hours before the bathroom mirror, fixing her hair. She will not hear her daughter’s laughter through the walls of their home in Shipman as she watches television.
Her aunts will not hear the boots shuffling across the floor of the 17-year-old who refuses to lift her feet. The extension cord plugged into her cell phone smacking against the floor has gone silent.
Trina Murphy said the guilty verdict Thursday brought a moment of elation but not the answers the family has sought all these months.
“It doesn’t bring the closure we need,” she said. “The only thing that can do that is finding Alexis and putting her to rest, but it definitely goes a long way to help us move on.”
Trina Murphy doubted Randy Taylor will ever reveal the location of her niece’s remains.
Without a body, and without numerous answers, the family hopes to rebuild as best they can.
“I think as a family, we can start a healing process,” Angela Taylor said.
And so, as Martin and the street signs would suggest, may people continue to pray for the family of Alexis Murphy.