ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — A former north St. Louis county teacher accused of molesting a student then hiring a hitman to kill the child is headed to trial.
Thursday, 38-year-old Deonte Taylor was expected in St. Louis county court for a plea hearing. Just two hours before the hearing, the I-Team learned the case will go to trial instead.
A bizarre backstory
Taylor was a teacher’s aide at Lusher Elementary School in 2015. Prosecutors say that's where he took a 7-year-old student out of class and molested him. The 2nd grader reported the abuse to the school and police.
A months-long I-Team investigation found Florissant police failed to respond or investigate the case for three years. Taylor was not even questioned after the accusation.
“For some reason, this case basically sat on somebody's desk and wasn't investigated properly," said Former Florissant Police Chief Tim Lowery. “We made a mistake. There's no doubt we made a mistake and made a huge mistake.”
Caught in a lie
What prompted police to finally investigate the abuse allegation? Florissant police initially spun a false narrative when questioned about why the case took three years to investigate.
"Due to new revelations with this case, investigators were able to make an arrest," said Steve Michael, an Officer with the Florissant Police Department in November of 2018.
The I-Team found that was a lie. The real reason the case was re-opened was simple and heartbreaking. Charging documents reveal the 7-year-old victim brought up the abuse during an outburst in class, and it was reported to the Missouri Department of Family Services.
We confronted Lowery about his department's false statements.
I-Team: Were there new revelations in 2018 that led to the reopening of this case? That's what we were told. But was it just the victim reporting it again?
"Yes," said Lowery.
By 2018, Taylor had moved on to a teaching position at Walnut Grove Elementary in the Ferguson Florissant school district. His record was clean.
Taylor was able to get that teaching position because the Hazelwood school district did not disclose the 2015 sexual assault allegation to the Ferguson-Florissant school district.
The Hazelwood school district said they complied with all state and federal reporting requirements. But that didn't include letting any potential employers looking for a reference know what Taylor was accused of.
I-Team: Why didn't you tell his next employer? He went on to teach in multiple school districts, have access to potentially hundreds of kids. Why not let his next employer know what he was accused of?
"It was an accusation. That's as far as it went," said Mark Behlmann of the Hazelwood School District.
A deadly twist
While behind bars for sexually abusing his student in early 2019, prosecutors say Taylor and his boyfriend, Michael Johnson, 68, hired a hitman to kill the child and the child's family.
That would-be hitman was an inmate at the St. Louis County Justice Center. John White was days away from being released, shortly before he was, he was approached by Taylor in jail.
"He told me that it was a 10-year-old boy and his mother and grandmother and I kind of got interested like 'Are you serious? You want to hurt a baby?'" White said. "The only specific part he asked was that it looked like an accident. Maybe carbon monoxide poisoning. Or either start a fire when everybody was asleep. And try to put it on the kid playing with matches."
Taylor allegedly offered White $20,000 for the murders. The I-Team found despite being in jail on felony sodomy charges, Taylor was still collecting a paycheck from the school district.
"The standard practice is when someone is put on administrative leave, they're on paid administrative leave. So he was placed on administrative leave when we learned he was charged," said Kevin Hampton, Ferguson-Florissant School District Spokesman in 2019.
White said Taylor told him about where the child's family lived.
"What I gather from it is that Michael [Johnson] was going to court and he was describing how the mother and the grandmother look. I think he was watching their house," said White.
Days after White was released from St. Louis County jail in February 2019, he contacted Johnson. Their first meeting was in a parking lot in north city.
"He's just saying 'I appreciate you doing this because Deonte needs to be home' and 'I want my baby home with me,'" said White. "He handed me the $500, he said uh 'I have to hurry up and get back to church because I'm the choir coordinator.'"
White says he never intended to go through with it.
"I got a baby that just turned 10. And that's all that was going through my head-this could have been my baby."
White approached prosecutors and became a criminal informant in the case.
Set for trial
In early 2019, St Louis county prosecutors learned Taylor was HIV positive.
He's facing charges for felony sodomy, conspiracy to commit murder and recklessly risking the infection of another with HIV.
His trial will begin on Aug. 9.
Prosecutors declined to speak on the case Thursday. Calls to Taylor’s defense attorney were not returned.
No trial date has been set for Johnson.