Plenty of prison inmates are perfectly frank in admitting that they did the crime for which they're now doing the time. Others will say with a straight face, "It wasn't me!" Every once in a while, they're even telling the truth.
The court system, for all its elaborate appeal mechanisms, isn't very well-suited to handle claims of innocence on the part of those already found guilty at trial. Points of law can be argued on appeal, but it's difficult to try to put a different spin on facts already weighed by a jury. North Carolina's Innocence Inquiry Commission was established with an eye toward making it more likely that facts pointing to someone's wrongful conviction would be fairly examined.
That's what the commission has done in the case of Greg Taylor of Cary, convicted in the murder of a Raleigh woman in 1991. Its finding: By a unanimous vote, Taylor was innocent.
But even though the panel found reason to believe Taylor's assertion -- maintained throughout his time in prison -- that he had not killed Jacquetta Thomas, the wheels of justice now seem to have stalled.
Retired Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., who championed the innocence commission's creation, urges C. Colon Willoughby, the Wake D.A., to ask that Taylor's conviction be set aside. But whether Willoughby does that or not, it's important that the three judges who are supposed to review the commission's findings -- and who could order Taylor set free -- get cracking. The failure so far even to have a hearing by the judges scheduled in the Taylor case is frustrating.
It does not reflect poorly on Willoughby that he and his colleagues were firm in their belief that Taylor was guilty as charged. If they were shaky in that belief, they never should have prosecuted Taylor in the first place.
Indeed, the finding that Taylor had nothing to do with Thomas' murder hinges on the confession of another man whose credibility Willoughby's office may well have reason to question. And Taylor's story -- that he and a companion had driven into Raleigh to smoke crack, and that his truck just happened to have gotten stuck in the mud near Thomas' body -- has been one to which a typical response is "Yeah, right."
To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.