A Wake County jury sentenced Nathan Holden to life in prison on Friday for killing his in-laws in 2014.
The jury that convicted Holden of two counts of first-degree murder on Monday considered more than 30 mitigating factors in deciding whether Holden should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Holden’s attorneys admitted that he shot and killed Angelia and Sylvester Taylor at their home in Wendell on April 9, 2014, then tried to kill their daughter, his former wife, LaTonya Holden, while her children were hiding in a bedroom closet. But they argued that he should not be convicted of first-degree murder, because the crimes were not premeditated.
The jury of nine men and three women agreed about the premeditation, but convicted him of first-degree murder anyway, because the crimes were committed in connection with another felony, the attempt to kill his wife.
Holden and his father, Nathaniel Carroll, were silent after the jury read its decision, as were his former wife and her family and supporters. But that silence was later followed by an outpouring of emotion and relief outside the courtroom, where the Taylor family, members of Angelia’s church and prosecutors and sheriff’s investigators all hugged and consoled one another.
One of Sylvester Taylor’s sons, Marktontio Royster, 44, of Henderson, told the court before sentencing that he did not get a chance to grow up with his father, but the two became the best of friends when he reached adulthood. He said it was his birthday the day his father died, three hours after they had talked on the phone.
Angelia Taylor was the pastor of the Zion Hill Holiness Church in Jonesville, near Rolesville. Her husband served as head deacon of the church. Even though Angelia Taylor was not his biological mother, Royster called her “Momma Angie.”
“I remember one time he was real proud of Nate,” Royster told the court about his father. “Nate had started videotaping the church services. I could hear the satisfaction in his voice.”
The Taylors’ 38-year-old son, Sylvester Taylor Jr. 38, of Monroe, La., said the verdict provided closure for both the Taylor and Holden families.
“Justice prevailed,” he said. “And Nate, he’s still the father of the kids. We’re grateful that he has the opportunity to possibly reconcile with his kids. We have been praying for him as much as we’ve been praying for ourselves. Through all that’s happened maybe some good can come of it.”
Prosecutors argued for the death penalty, noting that Holden had an opportunity to stop the crimes after initially shooting Angelia Taylor once in the heart. Instead, Holden continued the attack, and then later fired at Wake County deputies who tracked him down to a field behind his home in Wendell.
“He shot Angelia. He shot Sylvester. He shot LaTonya, then he beat her up,” assistant district attorney Jason Waller said to the jury during closing arguments Thursday. “Then he goes and drops his car off, gets a buddy to drop him at his house, to do what? Reload. That’s violence.”
But Holden’s defense attorneys said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from a rough childhood and asked the jury to take that into account. They said his parents fought frequently in a household riddled by alcohol and crack cocaine abuse.
Attorney Jonathan Broun told the jury that Holden’s grim childhood did not excuse his crimes, but it did offer the jury insight into why he committed the acts. He said Holden tried to be different from his parents.
“He married. He tried to be a part of his children’s lives,” Broun said Thursday. “He was not a perfect father. He was not a perfect husband. But if you grow up in a home with a mom who has cognitive problems, it can leave scars. Where your father regularly beat your mother, it’s going to leave scars, not only on the mother, but on the children. Nate never had professional help. He tried to do his best. But there were scars.”
A Wake County jury has not sentenced anyone to death since 2007. The past seven capital cases have resulted in juries recommending sentences of life without parole instead of death penalties.
In February 2016, Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said it might be time to rethink whether to pursue the death penalty in future cases after jurors recommended a life sentence for Travion Smith, the man convicted of killing Melissa Huggins-Jones inside her North Hills apartment while her daughter was in a bedroom down the hall.
North Carolina has not had an execution since 2006. A number of legal challenges pending in the courts have created a de facto moratorium.
During the past decade, there has been a sharp decline in the number of death penalty trials. Last year, in all of North Carolina, five people were tried with the death penalty as a possibility. Of those five, only one was sent to death row.
One hundred and fifty inmates are on North Carolina’s death row.
Over the past five years, an average of fewer than two people per year have been sent to death row in North Carolina, compared with 20 to 30 people per year in the 1990s. There were no new death sentences in 2012 and 2015.
Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed to this report.