Opinion

Commentary: N.C. case shows the value of innocence process

The decision by a three-judge panel exonerating Greg Taylor in a 1991 murder for which he spent 17 years in prison was a dramatic moment in N.C. legal history. It's notable for several things:

It corrects a terrible error the state made in 1993 when a Wake County jury convicted Taylor of killing Joquetta Thomas in southeast Raleigh. Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who chaired a panel that included Mecklenburg Superior Court Judge Calvin Murphy and Superior Court Judge Tanya Wallace of Rockingham, said Taylor "has proved by clear and convincing evidence" that he is innocent. The standard of proof, he noted, required "credible, verifiable evidence of innocence that has not previously been presented."

It exposes an incredibly sloppy police investigation of the murder, a badly handled prosecution case that ignored common sense and an incompetent defense that failed to investigate the flawed evidence prosecutors used to convict Taylor.

It confirms the wisdom of former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly Lake in commissioning a study of whether the state should create a formal process to hear credible cases of actual innocence from prison inmates. The legislature later created the Innocence Inquiry Commission, the first of its type in the nation, to consider such cases. Sadly, there have been too many cases of wrongful convictions in this state.

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