Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Withholding evidence and a rush to judgment… Nifong or Ford-Willoughby?

On the front page of Wednesday, October 14, 2009 News & Observer is the following article by staff writer Mandy Locke, “I killed dozens, inmate claims: Serial confessor clouds N.C. case.” This article covers claims made by inmate Craig Taylor that among many of the victims he claims to have murdered is Jacquetta Thomas; the murder victim for whom another inmate, Greg Taylor is serving time (already sixteen years in custody).

The N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, a watchdog agency to review cases of possible wrongful convictions, heard the case of Greg Taylor, including the confession by Craig Taylor. Based on that, along with the debunking of other evidence used to convict him (which mainly consisted of testimony from a prostitute and jailhouse snitch), lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, the Commission unanimously voted that Gregory Taylor was innocent of the murder of Ms. Thomas.

After the Commission verdict was made public, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he would not dismiss charges against Greg Taylor because of confessor Craig Taylor’s penchant for making false confessions. D.A. Willoughby cited numerous examples of confessions made by the man, some which were dubious, some unlikely, and others which were impossible (including an Alan Gell-like scenario in which he was incarcerated at the time of a 2000 murder of a Wake County man). However, despite court orders to obtain all of Craig Taylor’s prison records and all information related to the Thomas murder, the prosecutors did not hand over this significant evidence to the Commission for its consideration.

As in the Alan Gell case, D.A. Willoughby withheld evidence from the Commission. Although the unregulated North Carolina State Bar accused former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong of withholding exculpatory evidence (which he didn’t and it wasn’t), and although that secretive and mysterious agency is planning a December 17th disciplinary hearing for Johnston County Prosecutor Gregory C. Butler for withholding evidence from the defense team (which he didn’t), the blatant violation by D.A. Willoughby is ignored by the state and media alike… there is no outrage.

While being interviewed by a television news reporter, Willoughby had the audacity to mention Mike Nifong and his “rush to judgment.” That Johnnie Cochran coined phrase is very vague and has no bearing in the Duke Lacrosse case; but it is applicable in the Greg Taylor case. A law professor who specializes in false confessions stated Craig’s confession to the Thomas murder was “plausible, even likely.” The expert witness went on to say, “The simple fact is [Craig Taylor] was able to provide details about this crime that were never released to the press. An innocent person would be hard pressed to know that kind of information.” That is an excellent point, and D.A. Willoughby would be hard pressed to provide an explanation that would be convincing to objective people of reason.

What is particularly troubling is the fact that D.A. Willoughby would much rather keep an innocent man incarcerated, and release a probable murderer, than admit a “rush to judgment” in the Greg Taylor case. The D.A.’s position appears to be that since Craig Taylor made many false confessions in the past, his confession about the murder of Jacquetta Thomas should not be taken seriously. Or, to put it another way, a person who falsely confesses to murders he/she didn’t commit, is incapable of committing a murder.

It is of interest to note that in the article, the name of Greg Taylor’s prosecutor (Wake County Assistant District Attorney Tom Ford) is mentioned only once, as co-author of a motion to a panel of Superior Court judges arguing against the release of Greg Taylor. Ford, who convicted Greg Taylor despite lack of forensic findings and based solely on testimony of a prostitute and a jailhouse snitch (who received favorable compensation for his courtroom statements), was never identified as the prosecutor in the article. In doing so, this article is in compliance with the publication’s unspoken policy of protecting all prosecutors, except Mike Nifong, from negative and untoward press… a policy in affect with local and national media.

A careful an objective analysis of the situation will find that Wake County D.A. Colon Willoughby’s and Assistant D.A. Tom Ford’s statements and actions are hypocritical in that they withheld evidence despite a court order, not Mr. Nifong, and they rushed to judgment in prosecuting and insisting on Greg Taylor’s guilt in the Jacquetta Thomas murder, not Mr. Nifong in his prosecution of the Duke Lacrosse defendants.

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