“After 16 years in prison, a chance: Panel (Innocence Inquiry) will hear convicted killer” is the News & Observer title of an article in the August 13, 2009 edition. On September 3 and 4, 2009, the eight-person Innocence Inquiry Commission will hold its third hearing since its creation by the state two years ago to investigate claims of innocence by convicts. It will help determine the fate of Gregory Flint Taylor, now 47, who was convicted of a 1991 murder in 1993, and was sentenced to serve life.
The victim of that crime was a prostitute whose body was found near Taylor’s vehicle. Taylor stated that his vehicle got stuck after a night of “four-wheeling” and that he had no contact with the victim.
As far as I can tell from the news article, the prosecution’s case was built on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch and what Wake Prosecutor Tom Ford stated was what appeared to be blood on the bumper of Taylor’s vehicle. Evidently the testimony of the snitch was that Taylor and another man (Johnny Beck), who was later arrested as an accomplice in the crime, had been partying with the victim the night of the crime. The snitch stated to jurors that Taylor told him about the victim’s death. Taylor denied this account, and professed his innocence, claiming that he did not even encounter the victim the day that she died. Although the substance on the Taylor vehicle appeared to be blood, the prosecution did not conduct any forensic testing to confirm it.
Four months after Taylor’s conviction in 1993, murder charges against Beck were dropped by Prosecutor Ford, but not after the prosecutor unsuccessfully attempted to obtain testimony from Taylor implicating Beck in the crime. According to court records and news accounts, Ford offered to reduce Taylor’s sentence in exchange for providing statements supporting Beck’s involvement in the murder.
Wake County prosecutor Tom Ford’s actions in the Gregory Flint Taylor case are below the standards of acceptable prosecutorial conduct in several ways. He failed to see to it that forensic studies were performed on what appeared to be blood on the Taylor vehicle bumper, charged Taylor and Beck without probable cause – relying only on the word of a jailhouse snitch, and he tried to entice statements from Taylor to implicate Beck by offering Taylor a reduced sentence. Of these three malfeasances, the last is the most despicable and goes against his obligation to seek truth as a “minister of justice” before seeking a conviction. Without Taylor’s cooperation on this point, it seems as though Ford was forced to drop the murder charges against Beck.
Although actions by Ford were far more egregious than what former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was accused of doing in the Duke Lacrosse case, and the injustice against Beck (and probably Taylor, as well) was far more severe than what the Duke Lacrosse players endured, do not expect an outpouring of rage against Wake Prosecutor Tom Ford by the Attorney General’s Office, the media, or the public. The state of North Carolina has a system of “selective justice based on Class and Color” and unless those tenets are violated (as in the Duke Lacrosse case where Prosecutor Nifong used the principle of “equal justice for all”), there will be no societal ripples of concern, indignation or consternation. Only when the status quo is challenged, as in the Duke Lacrosse case, will the cauldron of passion be stirred. And it will be stirred irrespective of whether or not the cause which incites it is just.