Courts & Crime

N. Carolina frees first inmate under innocence inquiry law

Three judges of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission voted unanimously to undo Taylor's 1993 conviction of murdering Jacquetta Thomas, a prostitute in Raleigh.
Three judges of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission voted unanimously to undo Taylor's 1993 conviction of murdering Jacquetta Thomas, a prostitute in Raleigh. Shawn Rocco/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT

RALEIGH, N.C. — Three judges voted Wednesday to give Greg Taylor his life back.

The judges voted unanimously to undo Taylor's 1993 conviction of murdering Jacquetta Thomas, a prostitute in Southeast Raleigh. Their decision exonerates Taylor and releases him from a term of life in prison.

After the decision was read, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby walked over to Taylor, shook his hand and apologized that he had been convicted.

Taylor was then taken into a private room, where his leg shackles were removed, before he returned to reunite with his family. He met his son-in-law, Charles Puryear, for the first time and hugged Yolanda Littlejohn, sister of the woman he had been accused of murdering.

Taylor and his lawyers met with the media in the lobby of the Campbell University Law School in downtown Raleigh where the historical event occurred. "We have been blessed in the state of North Caroline to make more progress as it relates to the system of justice. This is one those fantastic days. We all should look at this as a positive thing," said Joseph B. Chesire V, one of Taylor's attorneys.

After Chesire spoke, Taylor stepped up to the microphone and struggled for just the right words. Then he went into a litany of thanks. He then addressed a justice system that not only wrongly convicted him, but also freed him.

"This is not about innocent people. This is about injustice," he said.

Taylor, 47, is the first person in North Carolina to be exonerated using a new process established to handle convicted people's claims of innocence. Last September, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission voted unanimously that Taylor's case warranted further review.

Three judges -- Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, District Judge Tanya Wallace of Rockingham and Mecklenberg County Superior Court Judge Calvin Murphy -- were appointed to consider Taylor's case this month.

Taylor has sworn from the start that he did not kill Thomas. He and a drug partner, Johnny Beck, were targeted by police because Taylor's truck was found stuck in mud near Thomas' battered body in an isolated cul-de-sac in Southeast Raleigh.

This month, Taylor's attorneys discredited evidence used to persuade a jury to convict him in 1993.

Testimony showed that no blood, contrary to trial testimony, was found on Taylor's truck; an SBI agent had run the tests that would show that, but had not reported it to prosecutors in Taylor's trial.

A police canine's behavior probably was misinterpreted by her master, another expert testified. A prostitute who said she saw the victim with Taylor testified that she wouldn't bet her life on her recollection. And another prostitute who testified that she saw Thomas with Taylor described a scenario that would have been physically impossible.

Taylor and his family have been fighting for his release for 17 years. Every appeal failed. This hearing was his last chance to clear his name and regain his freedom.

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