If there was a single comment that summed up Taylar Nuevelle's testimony on Friday, it was one that came near the end of the afternoon, as the woman accused of stalking a D.C. magistrate judge sparred with the prosecutor.
Nuevelle said simply, "I made some poor choices."
Nuevelle was in turns tearful and contained as she told her version of the events at the center of her criminal trial for burglary, stalking and unlawful entry. As she took questions from her lawyer, Dorsey Jones Jr., she attempted to convince the jury at the D.C. Superior Court that she and her former girlfriend, Judge Janet Albert, had lived together for months before their chaotic breakup, and that she had simply gone back to the house they shared in order to retrieve her belongings.
Nuevelle said she was found unconscious in the attic of Albert’s Northwest Washington house, surrounded by pills and alcohol bottles, because she had tried to kill herself. And she had tried to kill herself, she said, because she was convinced that Albert would use her power as a judge to make sure Nuevelle never saw her own son again.
“I wanted to die, and I didn’t want anyone to try and stop me,” Nuevelle said.
At times today Nuevelle seemed nervous. She repeatedly told Judge Russell Canan that she was afraid of saying something the jury was not allowed to hear. And at times she spoke so rapidly that the judge had to stop her to let the court reporter catch up. But for much of her testimony, she simply recalled her daily life with Albert, talking about it in granular detail.
During her own testimony earlier in the week, Albert told jury that she and Nuevelle had never formally lived together. Nuevelle today said that she had moved into the judge’s house in November 2007, roughly three months after they had started dating. They agreed she would stay there five nights a week, Nuevelle said, and she kept her $1,300-a-month apartment on Kenyon Street because she wanted to make sure she had a place to go if the relationship didn’t work out.
She said almost all of her day-to-day belongings were at Albert’s. Her old apartment became a home office and a place for her cat. At Albert’s, she said, she would make smoothies and oatmeal for breakfast, and pack lunches for the judge’s young son. She said she cooked almost every dinner in the house – that before her, Albert used to just buy pre-packaged meals.
“I wanted to feed [the judge’s son] the way I would have fed my own son,” Nuevelle said.
She admitted that she and Albert had always had a “volatile” relationship, that they had broken up and reconciled several times. And she said that when it appeared their relationship was about to end on Sept. 11, 2008, she didn’t think she would be banned from the house.
That night, Nuevelle said, she had gone to the house to retrieve clothes for a business meeting the next day. She had left her spare key for the babysitter, she said, and used a window to enter the home. It was late, Nuevelle said, so she decided to stay the night.
The next morning, Albert came home. The two fought bitterly. Nuevelle had taken an unsent letter, written by Albert to an old partner, that Nuevelle believed proved Albert’s “deceitfulness.” She said she planned to e-mail copies to friends, and Albert wanted the letter back. As she left the house, Nuevelle said she left the letter in the foyer. But Albert allegedly shouted out: “I’m going to call Shafer.”
That was a reference to Nuevelle’s ex-husband, a man she was in a custody dispute with over their son. Albert threatened to make sure she would never see her own son again, Nuevelle alleged.
“I really believed she was going to do it, and she was a judge!” Nuevelle said. (In her own testimony, Albert could not recall her exact words, but told jurors it had been something to the effect of “If you keep behaving like this, it will hurt your custody case.”)
Nuevelle left. But in her fear and confusion, she said, she decided to remove all her belongings from Albert’s house, thinking it might pacify the judge. She returned to the house, using a key she picked up there earlier, she said, and began gathering her belongings. She also tried to text-message her son. She couldn’t reach him. Upset, she started drinking and taking pills. She passed out in the basement.
On Sept. 13, still unable to reach her son, and still worrying about what Albert might do, Nuevelle said she decided to die. She continued taking pills and drinking. She laid down in the attic.
“I remember at one point thinking, gee, it’s taking me a long time to leave this world,” she said.
After she was discovered and rushed to the hospital, Nuevelle began recovering at friends’ homes. She said she couldn’t get Albert to give back all of her belongings, and filed a civil suit. Eventually she also filed a judicial misconduct complaint, after she came to believe the judge had ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to investigate her, Nuevelle said.
In a tense cross examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Brenowitz tried to pin down Nuevelle about whether she had talked to her friends about the case before they testified. Brenowitz also questioned her about the work she was doing on a lap top she had brought into the attic, and about a conversation Nuevelle testified she believed she had heard between Albert and a friend on the floor below.
Nuevelle said that in her drugged state, she might have imagined the conversation. She then became emotional again.
“I would do nothing to bring more shame on my son,” Nuevelle cried, “and this has brought so much shame on him.”
Judge Canan said he expects the case to go to the jury by the end of Monday.