Lies about a South Carolina murder leave a Black family devastated

·5 min read

You told us a disabled black boy had kidnapped Brittanee Drexel, a 17-year-old white girl on an unauthorized vacation in Myrtle Beach with friends a several-hours-drive away from her home.

That was a devastating lie. You can’t just walk away from the damage caused by a lie that massive, that ugly, a lie 13-years-long and generations of falsely-accused black men deep.

You told us he and a group of other Black boys had effectively used Drexel in a human trafficking scheme, gang raped her, the kind of story that has long fueled disgusting myths about Black men and violence against white women – the kind that has gotten numerous Black men lynched in South Carolina and across the country.

You told us his father was in on it.

You told us they threw her body into alligator-infested waters, that her body would likely never be found. All lies. All devastating lies, lies from the kind of source that is known to lie: a jailhouse informant willing to tell tall tales to improve his own fortunes in our criminal “justice” system.

You told us he failed a polygraph, a test so unreliable most courts don’t allow its results to be used in formal proceedings.

You had no evidence connecting that Black boy and Drexel. We know that because you never charged him in her disappearance after she left a hotel on Myrtle Beach’s oceanfront the night of April 25, 2009, and instead used a past incident for which he had already been held to account to squeeze an admission of guilt out of him. Never mind that’s one of the primary ways men get convicted and spend decades in prison despite their innocence. Having no evidence didn’t stop you from trying to publicly pressure him to confess to a crime he didn’t commit.

It mattered not that he had lost an arm during an accident as a four-year-old. It mattered not that he repeatedly declared his innocence, speaking to any and everyone he could think of, from local media to Dr. Phil. You didn’t care that he was a 16-year-old who hadn’t even earned his driver’s license by the time Drexel’s photos were going up on billboards, her missing status attracting national attention because she was from Rochester, New York.

And yet when you recently called the media together to claim you had finally gotten the right guy, an older man with an extensive criminal history that includes sexual violence, you said nothing about what you had done to Timothy Taylor and his family. Not. One. Word.

You didn’t apologize to them, didn’t express regrets for having put them in an emotional vice so tight loved ones abandoned them. Grandkids are undergoing therapy because of what your lies did to their family. You acted as though they didn’t even exist.

You had time to thank each other, law enforcement officials in Georgetown and Horry counties and the FBI. You had time to tell the public how professional you were, how dogged you were, how relentlessly you kept your investigation going even though it took 13 years. You even had time to thank the media for helping keep the story in the news, which helped generate tips that helped you identify, arrest and charge 62-year-old Raymond Moody with kidnapping, rape and murder.

And when Joanne Taylor, the mother of Timothy Taylor, the then-16-year-old whom you lied about, spoke publicly for the first time since you arrested Moody, you weren’t there. Had you been, you would have watched her struggle to get her words out through sobs. About how devastating your lies about her son had been, the damage they caused to her family. You would have learned that while the Drexels had reason to praise the media for keeping their daughter’s memory alive, that same media – largely parroting your lies about a disabled Black boy – had crippled a different family who had become victims of this tragedy through no fault of their own.

“Our hearts do go out to the Drexel family,” Joan Taylor said. “We understand the tragic loss of Brittanee. As a mother of three, I truly understand. It pains me to think about even losing a child.”

But…

“The media frenzy has traumatized us, affecting every aspect of our lives,” she continued while fighting back tears during a press conference held in their rural community just outside of Charleston where plantations are aplenty and Jim Crow made life difficult after the chains and shackles had long been gone. “Our family’s character. It has shaken us to the core.”

The Taylor family shouldn’t be the only one shaken to its core. Law enforcement officials, if they are the professionals they claim to be, should be as well. And so should the media, who helped the FBI spread lies about a Black boy for no good reason. They should understand – we should understand – that justice isn’t solely about convicting Moody but also making the Taylor family whole, and that it would be a shame if they had to be forced into a long-overdue reckoning about how these cases are handled by law enforcement and media instead of proactively doing what’s right.

And that begins with an apology.

Though I didn’t spread the FBI’s lies about Taylor, neither did I spend enough time as a journalist pointing out the glaring holes in their supposed case against them. For that, I apologize.

Every time I jog at the Market Common, I’d say a silent prayer for Drexel when I pass her the memorial constructed in her memory, hoping there would be some resolution to the mystery of what had happened to her in April 2009. I’m a father of a daughter the age who is now the age Drexel was when Drexel was murdered. It’s terrifying.

But I will forever regret not recognizing that while what happened to the Drexels might be a parent’s worst nightmare, what happened to Timothy Taylor can be nearly as devastating.

Issac Bailey is a McClatchy Opinion writer based in Myrtle Beach

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