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Queens Chronicle

40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION In 2000, Massacre In Wendy’s Restaurant Shocks Communities

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Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2018 10:30 am

Leading off the new year, and the new millennium, was Queens’ first New Year’s Eve bash held at Flushing Meadows Park. Families from all over the borough came out for a night of fun at the museums there and enjoyed midnight fireworks over the Unisphere.

With the new millennium came new major development projects for Queens. The Long Island Rail Road began a multi-million-dollar renovation of its stations in the borough. Long Island Cit y saw groundbreaking for the second building in the long-awaited Queens Development Project there. Plans to site up to six new energy-generating plants a long the East River, however, met with strong resistance from civic groups and local elected officials.

The year was also touched by its share of scandals. This was the year the city responded to community outrage over adult entertainment clubs and X-rated video stores by en forcing a new zoning plan. But a loophole in the law allowed many of t he clubs to remain in place.

Late in the year, parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills were shocked to learn that their pastor, Monsignor Thomas Gradilone, was being questioned regarding $2 million in missing church funds. He was removed by the diocese as the investigation continued.

School District 29 in Eastern Queens was rocked by the indictment of former superintendent Celestine Miller. Along with her husband and several business associates, Miller was charged in a widespread kickback scandal where she allegedly rigged computer contract bids. She had been fired earlier in the year for not reporting a gun toting student.

The execution-style killing of five employees of a Wendy’s restaurant in Flushing and the ensuing arrest of the two alleged perpetrators dominated the news in the last half of the year.

•••

Five lives were lost in Flushing on May 24, 2000 and two other people were injured for a measly $2,400 in coins—a robbery-homicide known as the Wendy’s massacre that in

Queens, became the crime of the century. The victims, all hard-working individuals, ranging in age from 18-44, included young people, immigrants, people of vastly different nationalities and one woman, who all died in terror as two gunmen shot them execution style in the walk-in freezer of the fast food restaurant located at 40-12 Main Street. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown called it the most gruesome crime scene he had ever witnessed and eventually sought, and got, a death sentence for John Taylor, called the mastermind of the ill-fated robbery.

At one time,Taylor had worked as assistant manager at the Wendy’s and knew some of the employees who were shot. His partner, Craig Godineaux, was eventually found to be slightly retarded and could not be tried for the death penalty. He pleaded guilty and is now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole. The two survivors, Patrick Castro and Jaquione Johnson, lived to testify in court that John Taylor shot Wendy’s manager Jean Auguste, then turned the gun on screaming Anita Smith before handing the weapon to Godineaux and telling him to finish the job. He then shot Ramon Nazario, AliIbadad, Jeremy Mele and the two who survived. Taylor and Godineaux then fled the store and took public transportation to get home. It didn’t take police long to track down Taylor, who had a history of holding up fast food restaurants. He was arrested on Long Island at the home of a relative and was found with the murder weapon, money from the robbery and the surveillance videotape taken from Wendy’s. Godineaux was arrested later in Jamaica, where he worked as a security guard in a men’s clothing store.

The two had entered Wendy’s before closing time, joked with the staff, and then Taylor asked to see the manager in his basement office, where the safe was located. He ordered Auguste at gunpoint to call his employees downstairs. They were all bound and marched into the freezer, where large plastic bags were put over their heads and then shot. At the dramatic trial that began in October 2002 and ended shortly before Thanksgiving, relatives of the victims sat as chilling details of the crime were revealed to the jury, sometimes running out in tears as information about their loved ones was brought up.

Assistant District Attorney Daniel Saunders, in a two-hour closing statement, pointed to the plastic garbage bags as evidence of Taylor’s intent to murder the seven Wendy’s employees. Holding up the box that held the bags, Saunders told the jury that their purpose was to prevent blood from splattering on Taylor since he had to take public transportation home. “He knew where the bags were and his fingerprint was found on the box. This was never just a robbery because there would have been seven witnesses and three knew him.”

The Queens Chronicle noted in its story that the prosecution counted heavily on the testimony of Johnson, now 20, who was able to recount in chilling detail much of the massacre since the garbage bag only went partially over his head and he saw most of the shootings. Although the defense tried to put holes in Johnson’s story, saying his memory was affected by the shooting (he required brain surgery and months of rehabilitation), he stuck to his story and the jury believed him. The assistant district attorney also offered another motive for the crime: revenge.

Taylor disliked Auguste, because he was his supervisor at Wendy’s and had called him to task. Saunders described Auguste as a star on the rise. He was promoted to take Taylor’s place after he was fired by management. “That was more than Taylor could tolerate and he became obsessed. He wanted to show (Wendy’s officials) what could happen with Auguste in charge.”

It took the sequestered jury only 11 hours to find Taylor guilty. A week later, following the penalty portion of the trial, he was sentenced by the same jury to the death penalty. Taylor remained stonefaced as he had throughout, when the jury found that the mitigating circumstances were not enough to sentence Taylor to life in prison. The families of the victims were satisfied with the penalty, saying justice had been served. Joan Truman-Smith, mother of the only female victim, told the Queens Chronicle: “Let him think about what he did to my daughter. I never thought this could happen in this country,” said the Jamaican native.

“Taylor killed her like an animal. He doesn’t deserve to live.” The restaurant never reopened and is now a mini-mall. Wendy’s founder, Dave Thomas, came to Queens a few months after the massacre and with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, planted a tree of remembrance for the victims at the Queens Botanical Garden.

Taylor was taken to Dannemora State Prison. Appeals of the verdict, mandated by state law, could take 10 to 20 years.

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