Civil rights activists gathered at the Mount Zion AME Church in McClellanville Wednesday morning to protest the incarceration of Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor — a person of interest in the Brittanee Drexel disappearance — before his trial on Jan. 30.
Spanish moss clung to trees that lined the two lane road, leading to the church where John C. Barnett met with Taylor’s friends and family gathered in hopes of freeing the man, who Barnett said had nothing to do with the Drexel case.
Drexel, who came to Myrtle Beach for a spring break trip without her parent’s permission, was 17 when she went missing. She was last seen by her friends on April 25, 2009, leaving the Blue Water Hotel on Ocean Boulevard.
Police have been searching for her for almost nine years. In June 2016 police announced they knew the teen had been dead for some time, changing the missing person’s case into a murder investigation.
Later that year, the Post and Courier out of Charleston received FBI files stating that Drexel was beaten, gang-raped, shot and left with alligators near the McClellanville area.
Taylor was arrested in 2011 after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit a robbery for planning and driving a getaway car during an armed robbery of a Mount Pleasant McDonald’s, and served a sentence for the crime.
However, federal charges for the McDonald’s robbery were resurrected after investigators looking into Drexel’s disappearance heard Taylor’s name in their search for a suspect from another inmate, Taquan Brown.
Brown told investigators that he went to a house in the McClellanville area where he saw Taylor, then 16, “sexually abusing Brittanee Drexel,” the Post and Courier reported. He reportedly said that he saw Drexel trying to escape the house, but was caught and brought back inside. Brown said that he then heard two shots and that a covered body was brought out of the house and taken away.
Now, Barnett hopes to “shine a light on the area,” showing that Taylor has already served time for robbery charges, and said he is being held unfairly for a different case.
“I ask that you stop this witch hunt” Barnett said. “I strongly believe he has nothing to do with” the Drexel case.
In July, Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday told The Sun News that a polygraph test affirmed their belief that Taylor knew more about the Drexel case than he was saying.
Holliday said that Taylor’s name came up “time and time again” in their investigation of Drexel’s disappearance after his name was first mentioned by the inmate.
During that time, federal prosecutors offered Taylor a deal — tell us where Drexel is and we’ll drop the charges in the robbery case. However, Taylor’s attorney, Mark Peper, said that Taylor “was in third period class at Lincoln High School” at the time the informants told police he was at the house with Drexel.
“It’s been hell,” Joan Taylor, Timothy Taylor’s mother, said. “I mean, we have people threatening us, we get obscene messages, I’ve lost my job of 11 years. Especially life for his kids, because his oldest son lives with us, and we try to screen him from hearing the stories on the news, and his daughter. And they miss him because he’s very active in their lives.”
Taylor has two kids, an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old, and attended the NASCAR Technical Institute in North Carolina.
Now, Barnett is planning a demonstration outside the courthouse on Jan. 30 and is creating a petition to send to the Department of Justice.
“If they did this to brother Timothy, they’re going to do it to someone else,” Barnett said. “How dare you prosecute this young man? He was 16.”
With the help of Barnett, Joan Taylor said that the family once again has hope.
“He feels good about somebody supporting him because it’s always been everybody talking negative,” Joan Taylor said. “This is the one time, I can tell you, that I’ve heard him laugh or seen him smile when I visited him in months. You know, the question was asked by him to me, ‘Why did they pick me? Why, mama, why did they pick me of all people?’”