A rape victim and eyewitness to a slaying on Thursday recounted the harrowing events of a crime that occurred almost 20 years ago.
During the preliminary hearing in 8th District Court for Willard Dale Taylor, 52, of Salt Lake City, charged with first-degree homicide, the woman testified that the "trigger man" who repeatedly shot Gregory Dahl Nickell, 19, of Vernal, and later raped her in the early morning hours of Nov. 26, 1972, was "a braggart and very cocky."During her three-hour-long testimony, the woman, now 38 and living out of state, detailed specific events during the five to six hours she was held captive by two men. Both of them raped her after one of them shot and killed Nickell as the couple sat in his car at the scenic overlook west of Vernal.
"A man tapped on the window and Greg rolled it down. He told him there had been an accident and they needed help. Greg said `sure' and started to roll the window up, then he began shooting.
"On the first shot Greg fell in the seat, but then he sat up. The man shot again. Greg lay back on the seat and he continued shooting.
"He pushed Greg over and got in the car. The first thing he said was he asked me if he looked like the type of man who could rape a 13-year old girl." He then drove away and was met by another man in a car a short time later.
The woman said the "trigger man" continually played with what she described as his "cowboy type" gun. "He enjoyed his gun. Holding it to my head and neck. He was very busy with it."
She said he had a Texas accent and "very filthy mouth.
"He told the other man he got carried away shooting Greg and he was proud of it."
Nickell's vehicle was later set on fire south of Ouray with his body still inside. The woman was transferred to the vehicle driven by the second man and was driven around for several hours by the pair.
The witness had difficulty estimating travel time and directions because a heavy covering was placed over her head throughout much of the ordeal.
She was released "as the sun was coming up" just outside of Duchesne, and ran to a nearby farmhouse for help.
Despite several leads and years of investigation, the identity of possible suspects remained a mystery until early this year when Uintah County Sheriff Lloyd Meacham discovered a 1974 interview in the Nickell file that had apparently gone unnoticed.
On March 13, 1974, Detective Kenneth Ladd of the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department interviewed Susan Dixon, Taylor's stepdaughter. She said that on November 26, 1972, Taylor arrived home after being gone all night and said that he had killed somebody.
On cross-examination however, defense attorney Alan Williams pointed out that Dixon had access to the same newspaper reports which Ladd had seen before he ever interviewed her.
The closest anyone came to placing Taylor in Vernal at the time of the murder was through testimony by former Vernal resident George McKinney, a good friend of Nickell's father, Dallas.
McKinney told the court that when he saw Taylor's picture on a TV news report following his arrest Aug. 13, he "recognized his face from 20 years ago."
"He use to hang out in bars I hung out in. I didn't know his name, but I heard them call him Tex. I thought he was from Texas."
"He just stood out. He intimidated people, but I never saw him cause any trouble. I never saw him in the bars again after the Nickell murder."