LYNNWOOD —After two hung juries and a rejected plea deal, a Chicago woman will serve no more jail time for the early 2021 killing of a man outside of Fred Meyer in Lynnwood, a judge ruled Monday.
Shayla Baylor, 28, was accused of fatally stabbing Greg McKnight in his legs after an argument in the parking lot. Prosecutors charged her with second-degree murder, but two trials ended in jurors unable to reach a verdict in October 2022 and April of this year.
“Our role as a prosecutor is to try these cases to the community, and then listen to the community when they answer back with a verdict, and in both trials the response was there was not an agreement,” deputy prosecutor Hal Hupp said in court Monday.
In court Monday, Baylor pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter. This came six weeks after Baylor rejected a plea deal for first-degree manslaughter — a conviction that would have seen her face eight to 10 years in prison.
“To this day I still don’t understand, why am I, the old one, alive and he’s not,” McKnight’s mother Gail Callahan said in court. “I wish that you knew who you murdered, who Greg really was, and still is, to those of us who love him.”
Under state sentencing guidelines, Baylor faced 22 to 27 months. The defense and prosecutors both recommended the high end of that range.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Paul Thompson accepted the recommendation. Baylor has already served 29 months in the Snohomish County Jail, setting her up for imminent release with time served.
In January 2021, McKnight went to Fred Meyer to buy cat food, according to the charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court. The 62-year-old man was disabled, and parked in the accessible spot closest to the store. He used an electric scooter to move around the Fred Meyer.
While exiting, McKnight noticed a silver Nissan Sentra parked right next to his car, blocking him from getting inside his car, according to the charges. Witnesses reported 4 people inside the Sentra, including Baylor who was in the passenger seat.
Prosecutors claimed the group of people got into an argument with McKnight over the parking space. They alleged Baylor was in a “fit of rage,” crouched down in a “predatory stance” and stabbed McKnight’s legs.
McKnight was taken to a hospital, where he died. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner identified three cuts, including a deep, lethal cut on his left leg. All of the wounds were on the back of his legs.
Baylor’s defense attorneys argued something different. According to court filings, Baylor was reacting to protect herself and her girlfriend from someone who was acting aggressively and making racist remarks, eventually attacking both of them.
Witnesses reported hearing him call them the N-word, according to court documents. He allegedly placed his electric cart behind Baylor’s girlfriend’s car so she couldn’t reverse out of the space.
Baylor armed herself with a knife she kept in her door handle, according to her lawyers. McKnight reportedly lunged at her, and she dodged, stabbing him in the leg. He grabbed on to her door, and she stabbed him again in the left leg. The group left and drove to California.
Police arrested Baylor in Oakland. Investigators found photos on her phone showing her holding a 15-inch combat knife covered in blood, taken one minute after the attack, according to court documents.
In a police interview, she acknowledged stabbing McKnight. She reported she was trying to protect herself and her girlfriend, according to court documents. Baylor is 5 feet tall, while McKnight was 6 feet tall and over 300 pounds.
Baylor’s first trial for second-degree murder took place in September. Former juror Jennifer Bardsley said deliberations were stalled because of one juror. The lone juror believed the defendant was “95% guilty” but felt it wasn’t enough to consider Baylor guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Bardsley said.
Bardsley used to be a columnist for The Daily Herald. After the trial, she wrote an article about her experience.
Judge Thompson declared another mistrial in April after a second jury deliberated for 2½ days and remained deadlocked. Over the course of the second trial, jurors submitted notes expressing their confusion over different legal terms.
“Can we get a legal dictionary?” one note read.
In court Monday, McKnight’s family and friends described a proud, openly gay man, who left an indelible trace on the people he knew.
“My friend is the one that I met in 1994 when I was first coming out of the closet, and he befriended me and the man who’s now my husband, and took us under his wing,” McKnight’s friend Kevin Teeley said in court. “Yes he was mouthy, but he didn’t deserve to die over that.”
McKnight’s sister Janelle Danielson could hardly hold back tears as she recalled the person who taught her how to ride a bike, and piled up leaves for her to jump in growing up.
“I need to tell you even if you don’t hear, that he was a real person, Greg deserves to be seen as a person,” Danielson said in court. “Our town was not an easy place to be gay in the 1970s, I didn’t even know he was in the closet until he came out. He was one of my absolute heroes growing up, flaming in a farming town. He belonged to the people who loved him.”
Once released, Baylor plans to request to move to Illinois to be with her mother while on probation.
She made brief remarks Monday:
“I apologize to their family, my family, for having to go through this, and that’s pretty much it.”