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Death Investigation Leaves Young Mom's Family with Questions
By Marci Manley, Reporter
LITTLE ROCK, AR - "She had some problems," Tammie McElrath said of her youngest daughter. "If that baby didn't have nothing, she would still give you half of it. "
Tammie McElrath would have celebrated her daughter's 26th birthday last week.
"She grew up without a daddy. Her daddy died and she hardly knew him. She would not have done that to her son," she said, of why she can't believe Melanie McElrath would take her own life.
Nearly a year after authorities ruled Melanie's death a suicide, the investigation and questions it has left behind, don't quite sit right for her family.
"I do know that if there was anyone she would have lived for, it would have been Riley," said Melanie's sister, Christina Amerson.
According to an initial report, Little Rock Police received a call from Ricky Taylor at 107 Broadmoor. He told police his girlfriend, identified as Melanie, wasn't breathing and that she had apparently overdosed after an argument they were having.
"When I turned her over her lips were purple. That got me moving right there," Taylor said during a recorded interview with police investigators that morning.
Taylor had told police he went to the restroom during a fight with Melanie and returned about an hour later. But during an interview with investigators that same morning, his story changed. Taylor claimed he had stepped outside to smoke, and the time window shrunk.
"How long were you gone?" asked Detective Ray.
"About half an hour, maybe 45 minutes," Taylor said.
Taylor also claimed to perform CPR on Melanie until she threw up all over the bed. Crime scene investigators described the scene in detail, but never mentioned any vomit. Crime scene photos also don't appear to show any, either.
"If Ricky did CPR, her little ribs would have been cracked. Something would have been wrong," Tammie McElrath said.
Aside from the interview with Taylor, police didn't appear to interview anyone further. Taylor had alleged Melanie was in a verbal altercation right before she died with a friend she had visited earlier.
However, that friend confirmed police never spoke with her about the alleged argument. A detail she claims they would have found out, had they spoken with her, is that Melanie had planned to travel the next day to visit her son, who was staying with her sister.
Taylor had told police Melanie was depressed because her family members had taken custody of her son and refused to return her calls. According to Christina, whom 2-year-old Riley was staying with at the time, the account was simply not accurate.
"Melanie had come to me and asked me to keep Riley while she tried to get better," Amerson said. "I was trying to help her. The night before she died she had called to make plans to come see Riley. We were not trying to take Riley away, we were doing what she had asked."
Taylor alleged that Melanie had a problem with methamphetamine. While her family said Melanie was fighting substance abuse issues, her preferred drugs were prescription pills and marijuana. Which brings us to their questions regarding the medical examiner's report. On scene, Taylor discovered an empty pill bottle laying on the bed with Melanie as MEMS worked to revive her.
According to the reports, the pill bottle was for doxepin, an anti-depressant, that Taylor said she had been prescribed after leaving a detox program just days before. The pill bottle was transferred with Melanie to the hospital and later to the State Crime Lab. However, no pictures of the bottle or further details were entered into the investigation case file.
"I'm a nurse, and I don't see how someone could take nearly 60 pills and not get sick," McElrath said. "For her to take that many, I don't know that it's physically possible."
According to the report, no trauma was noted on Melanie's body. However, her toxicology report showed a litany of drugs in her system, including SOMA, methamphetamine, doxepin and others. Melanie's friends reported they didn't know her to do meth. What was negative in the report was any cannaboids, and none of Melanie's preferred drugs tested positive.
"Melanie smoked marijuana on almost a daily basis," Tammie McElrath said. "Right or wrong, that's something we know she did. And her friends verified that she smoked marijuana at the barbecue that night. But it wasn't present in the toxicology?"
And according to Melanie's family members, the SOMA drugs in her system were a class of drugs she hated to take and had refused to take on more than one occasion. No pill bottles or prescriptions were noted for the other narcotics Melanie had in her system.
McElrath also reported that while there was no trauma reported in the examiner's report, Melanie's family had noticed a bruise to her forehead during the funeral.
"She had makeup on and everything already, but I could see a bruise on her forehead," McElrath said. "I pointed it out to the funeral home staff, and they told me to just get through the day. But there wasn't any mention of that in the report."
McElrath and Amerson both report that police never contacted them to verify any information provided by Taylor. They also said that they were never contacted by Little Rock Police as next of kin and that Melanie's items were never returned, including her cell phone. They added that they tried multiple times to contact police, but were never able to reach anyone.
Christina Amerson said she initially didn't believe her sister was dead, because she received a text message from Melanie's phone hours after she would have died.
"I told my husband that they must have the wrong person, because I had just gotten a text message from Melanie's phone. It was a picture of her and Riley sent to me," Amerson said. "At the time it was sent, she would have already been gone."
"I hope that something is done. It's horrible. I felt like she was treated like she was nothing," McElrath said. "And she was somebody to us."
Taylor's history also gave the family pause. He was on parole at the time of Melanie's death, having been convicted of multiple drug, firearm and battery charges in Marion County in the late 90s.
He had also faced a charge of attempted capital murder that was later dropped. And according to police records, he also had a domestic battery charge that was dropped in 2006.
"You're taking a statement from a felon. The first thing that comes out of his mouth is that they had an altercation. Does that not send up red flags? " Amerson said.
In 2011, Little Rock Police were called to the Broadmoor home, because Taylor's wife alleged he had thrown a television at her head. Police also found narcotics in his pockets. He was charged with possession and domestic battery. Prosecutors dropped those charges without explanation, and Taylor's parole was not revoked.
Taylor filed for divorce three weeks after the arrest, and their divorce was finalized in July 2013.
Police call logs and court records show that between 2010 and 2013 officers were called more than once for allegations of domestic battery and disturbances.
Roughly 6 months after Melanie's death in his home, another report was called in that Taylor's ex-wife had slit her wrists in the same home. Police couldn't locate her, and Taylor told police she was having mental issues.
"It's all there and I don't know what they're waiting on," Amerson said, regarding Taylor's history. "It just seems like this would be someone who should have been investigated further."
A month after the call alleging a possible suicide, Taylor was arrested in Lonoke County for possession of a firearm. In June, authorities discovered three pipe bombs inside his Little Rock home, for which he could face charges.
"He has a history. It's there. I don't understand why it would have been so hard to do your job and do a thorough investigation," Amerson said.
Melanie's family has been open about her struggles with substance abuse, but they say she was fighting to get better for her boy. She was trying to leave Ricky in the process, they said.
"She had that baby, and that baby was everything to her," Tammie McElrath said. "I think she made plans to go see him the next day because she was trying to leave Ricky. Her bags weren't unpacked at his house, and she was planning to go down while he was at work."
"Melanie had a family. She may not have been nobody to you, but she was everything to us," Amerson said. "I just want justice for her, if there's any justice to be found. I just want a proper investigation to be done."
We had reached out to the original investigator on the case several weeks ago, but we received no response. As of last week, Little Rock Police decided to take another look at Melanie McElrath's death. They have declined to talk about the initial investigation, saying it is now an ongoing investigation.
Ricky Taylor is currently incarcerated in the Lonoke County Jail, awaiting a bed at the Arkansas Department of Correction. We attempted to contact him, but were unsuccessful in reaching him behind bars.