Wendy's Suspect Was A Fugitive

Saturday, May 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — A man arrested in the execution slayings of five people at a Wendy's was a fugitive free on $3,500 bail after a string of armed robberies at fast-food restaurants, authorities said Saturday.

Prosecutors had requested a bail of $100,000 for John ``Benji'' Taylor, but the judge released him last summer ``on a ridiculously low bail,'' said Sherry Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney.

The 36-year-old suspect and an alleged accomplice were to be arraigned Saturday for killing five Wendy's employees and wounding two others. Their heads wrapped in plastic, they were bound, gagged and shot execution-style.

It was the most gruesome crime on a trail that authorities say stretches back to the summer of 1996, when Taylor was assistant manager of a McDonald's near the Empire State Building. He was found guilty of trying to break into the restaurant's safe and was sentenced to five years' probation.

Then, in the course of a week last June, he was linked to robberies or attempted robberies at four fast-food businesses in Queens.

A source close to law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Taylor admitted his guilt in robberies on June 19 and June 23, and prosecutors were negotiating a 12-year sentence last August. He then raised the $3,500 bail set by Judge Pauline Mullings.

Taylor failed to appear in court on Oct. 22 and again on Nov. 5. Authorities issued a warrant for him and he had been a fugitive since.

A spokesman for Gov. George Pataki said Pataki has proposed legislation that would give prosecutors the right to appeal low bail for a suspect like Taylor. The bill passed the Senate earlier this week, and is up for a vote in the Assembly.

``Had this legislation been in place, this animal potentially would have been behind bars, rather than on the street,'' said the spokesman, Michael McKeon.

Taylor was arrested Friday afternoon at his mother's house in Brentwood, N.Y., about 30 miles from the scene of Wednesday's killings in Flushing, Queens.

The other suspect, Craig Godineaux, 31, was arrested at a men's clothing store where both suspects worked. Each admitted to a role in Wednesday's murder-robbery, authorities said.

Taylor worked at the Flushing Wendy's briefly in 1999. He left in October under suspicion because money was missing. He was never charged.

``He was dismissed for theft,'' said First Deputy Police Commissioner Patrick Kelleher. ``We believe he did have a beef with the manager. Whether that was what led him to the shooting, we don't know yet.''

At their arraignment in Queens Criminal Court, both men faced multiple counts of first- and second-degree murder, robbery and weapons charges, said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. He could seek the death penalty.