Taylor Anne McAllister was killed.
At least, that's what the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office determined. Her body was found dumped in an alley in St. Petersburg two years ago Saturday. The 22-year-old woman died of asphyxia, according to her autopsy. Officials ruled it a homicide.
But there are no murder charges. No manslaughter charges. The only charges related to her killing are three counts of failing to report a death. That's what Robert Butler III and Quran Archer pleaded guilty to on Friday. For McAllister's parent's, Bill and Leslie McAllister, it's a thin reckoning for their daughter's killing.
"We're disgusted," Bill McAllister said before the hearing. "We're going to court for a misdemeanor, because that's all failure to report a death is. It's mind blowing how easy it is for someone to get away with murder."
But investigators said it's not a slam dunk case. Even though the autopsy said Taylor McAllister was killed, they don't know where or when she died, who was responsible and if there was intent to kill.
"To charge somebody with a murder, I've got to have evidence that the person committed the murder," Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said. "There's a lot of suspicion, a lot of finger pointing. ... I've got to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury down the road."
Before her death, McAllister had been at Butler's Palm Harbor home. Butler, now 53, is the son of Robert Butler Jr., the late founder of Bob's Carpet and Flooring.
Two other men, Deonte Baker, 36, and Quran Archer, 26, picked up McAllister, investigators said. That's where the facts begin to break down.
In one version of the story, Baker told authorities McAllister, a mother of twin girls, was dead when he got there. In another, she was barely conscious. Archer said she died in the car.
What is known is that Baker and Archer called Butler, who told them not to come back to Palm Harbor with the body. According to police, the pair left McAllister behind the homes on 63rd Avenue S.
She was found by a man collecting cans in the alley on the morning of Dec. 22. She had nothing on but a shirt and had what investigators believe were tire tracks on her legs.
After they dumped her body, the pair returned to Butler's house, police said, where they removed McAllister's belongings and had the car cleaned.
The investigation got off to a slow start, St. Petersburg police Major Shannon Halstead said Friday, because detectives initially didn't have enough evidence to get a search warrant of Butler's house.
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Hoping to find physical evidence from Butler's house, detectives surveilled the people cleaning it, the major said. They spoke to Baker's several girlfriends, retracing their movements by triangulating the location of their cell phones. Some of them carried five or six phones. The case file ballooned to more than 300 pages.
There was the question of when and how McAllister died, Halstead said. Her body was in poor shape from drug abuse. She had hepatitis, kidney failure and bacterial growth on her heart valves that can come from using dirty needles. She had abscesses in her lungs and suffered a stroke.
Detectives even investigated the group on money laundering suspicions, hoping the pressure they applied would encourage someone to come forward and tell the truth about McAllister. No luck. According to court records, Butler and Baker pleaded guilty to federal money laundering charges. Butler was sentenced to 40 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $140,000. Baker is set for sentencing on the money laundering charges in February. He was not in court Friday and is scheduled to appear on the failure to report a death charge also in February.
After Butler pleaded guilty Friday, the McAllisters gave the kind of victim impact statement usually reserved for murder cases.
They begged Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Theodora Komninos to give Butler the maximum sentence — one year — and to take him into custody that day. That would ensure he missed Christmas with his family, like their daughter did in 2016 and forever will.
Leslie McAllister recalled how she had to make funeral arrangements on Christmas Eve two years ago, and then go home and wrap presents for her other four kids. Taylor was second oldest. How at the funeral, her youngest daughter, Taylor's sister, Payton, who was 5 at the time, asked how they got a statue of Taylor into the casket.
"No parent should have to see their child in a casket," Leslie McAllister said.
Bill McAllister called Butler, who has faced legal trouble in the past, a "monster" and a "virus."
Butler sat at the defendant's table with his head low. The muscles in his face tensed from gritting his teeth.
Komninos sentenced Butler to one year in county jail. He was taken into custody Friday. Archer was given six months and was told to report to jail Monday.
Both will spend Christmas in jail.
Contact Josh Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.