A former Kansas State University student accused of the 2011 beating death of an Army veteran and the 2010 rape of a 57-year-old Manhattan woman pleaded no contest in Riley County District Court Tuesday to both charges.
Justin Taylor, 25, was initially charged with the intentional second degree murder of Kevin Cockrum, 31, a former combat medic who was found beaten and unconscious in an Aggieville alleyway on Aug. 11, 2011. That charge was reduced to voluntary manslaughter as a part of his plea deal with the state.
In February, Riley County detectives named Taylor as a suspect in the 2010 rape of a 57-year-old woman. In court Tuesday, Assistant County Attorney Barry Disney said Taylor attacked the woman while she was jogging near Denholm Drive in the early morning of June 25, 2010.
He said DNA taken from a used condom found at the crime scene was matched to Taylor once he was arrested for the beating death of Cockrum.
In court, Disney requested that District Judge Paul Miller consolidate both of Taylor’s cases by dismissing the charges in the homicide case and adding a charge of voluntary manslaughter in addition to the rape charge.
He said the state believes the voluntary manslaughter charge appropriately reflects the facts of the case and reflects the element of a sudden quarrel. Second-degree murder is typically defined as an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable “heat of passion,” whereas voluntary manslaughter is commonly defined as a killing that took place in a “heat of passion,” though the offender had no prior intent to kill.
Disney told the court that in the early morning hours of Aug. 11, 2011, Taylor and a friend, Levertis Horne, were driving on Moro Street through Aggieville when Horne yelled an expletive at a woman walking with Kevin Cockrum.
He said the men noticed Cockrum running after the car and parked in an alleyway, where an altercation between the two men and Cockrum began. Disney said Horne knocked Cockrum unconscious with a punch to the face, and that Taylor then struck Cockrum hard two times on the head with Cockrum’s flashlight.
Cockrum died of extensive head trauma the next day after being transferred to Via Christi in Wichita.
Officers arrested Horne in August for his involvement in the beating, but those charges were dropped due to what officials said was insufficient evidence.
Judge Miller told the court he believed there was a factual basis for the pleas and found Taylor guilty. By pleading no contest, Taylor gave up his right to a trial, which had been scheduled for April, before he had accepted the state’s plea deal.
Though Taylor pleaded not guilty to his involvement in Cockrum’s death in November, Disney said the state had been in talks with Taylor’s defense for the past two to three weeks.
Taylor’s sentencing is scheduled for May 18 at 9 a.m. He is represented by Larry McRell, chief public defender for the North Central Regional Public Defender’s Office.