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Virginia handyman convicted of murdering missing teenage girl

LOVINGSTON, Virginia (Reuters) - A Virginia jury found a handyman guilty on Thursday of the kidnapping and murder of a 17-year-old girl whose body has never been found and recommended that he be sentenced to two life sentences in prison.

Randy Taylor, 48, left the courtroom, at his request, before sentencing was imposed in the case that has riveted the close-knit community in mountainous western Virginia since Alexis Murphy disappeared on August 3, 2013.

The jury in Nelson County Circuit Court deliberated roughly six hours before returning its guilty verdicts. A formal sentencing was scheduled for July 23.

Murphy was last seen at a gas station, where surveillance camera footage showed Taylor opening the door for her.

Prosecutor Anthony Martin had told jurors that FBI investigators found blood on a shirt under a couch in Taylor's camper trailer that matched that of Murphy and that her DNA was found in a strand of hair found on Taylor's pillow and in a fingernail found in the trailer's carpeting.

Defense attorney Michael Hallahan tried to persuade the jury that Taylor should not be convicted on circumstantial evidence and, because Murphy's body has never been found, no one could definitively say what happened to her.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers, community volunteers and classmates searched the region for some trace of Murphy. Prosecutors said it is rare for a homicide trial to proceed without a body.

The teen's mother Laura Murphy said in court that her daughter would have graduated this month from high school and was a star volleyball player who wanted to attend college.

Murphy disappeared while on a shopping trip for hair extensions for her senior portrait, her family said.

"I just want Alexis to come home," her mother said in court, breaking into tears.

Taylor was a person of interest in the disappearance of a teenager in a nearby county about three years ago but never charged, authorities said. That teen's body also has never been found.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Grant McCool)

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