“Taylor gets his shot at release: 17-year convict could be freed,” is the headline of an outstanding article in today’s February 7, 2010 News & Observer newspaper written by Mandy Locke. More details are furnished in this news story that tells about early investigative actions to solve the Raleigh murder of Jacquetta Thomas in September 1991. Gregory Taylor, whose truck had gotten stuck in the mud near the murder site, and his passenger Johnny Beck, hitched hiked home late that evening with plans to retrieve the truck the following morning. Taylor and Beck became suspects solely because Taylor’s truck had been found about a football field’s length away from the body. Police attempted to have Gregory Taylor implicate Johnny Beck (an African American) by telling him the falsehood that Beck had fingered him (Taylor) for committing the murder. Mr. Taylor refused to lie and state that Beck was involved. The police suggested to Mr. Taylor that he could face the death penalty; still Mr. Taylor refused to lie on Mr. Beck. The police lied again, stating that the victim’s blood had been found in his truck. Mr. Taylor still refused to implicate Mr. Beck, and he requested to speak to an attorney. Greg Taylor asked four times for an attorney, but the police refused to acquiesce. Within twelve hours of finding the slain body of Jacquetta Thomas, police had charged Taylor and Beck with first-degree murder… despite lack of physical evidence or eyewitness testimony. Talk about a rush to judgment!!!
When the possibility of two or more suspects are considered as perpetrators of a crime, a commonly used tactic by the police, prosecutors, and investigators is to have one of the individuals implicate the others. For the murder of Jacquetta Thomas, the attempt was made by Prosecutor Tom Ford to get Taylor, who is white, to implicate Beck who is black. In another recent case, the murder of Wilson teen Brittany Willis, the police were successful in getting teen murderer Kenneth Meeks to finger an innocent friend, James Arthur Johnson. The investigators told Meeks that Johnson had “snitched” on him, which unlike the case against Greg Taylor, was the truth. Meeks had confided in Johnson that he had committed the murder of Ms. Willis, and days later, when Johnson told his father what Meeks had told him, his father took him to Wilson police to provide authorities with the information. Although James Arthur Johnson provided information that solved the murder of Ms. Willis, and that should have earned him the gratitude of the Willis family, as well as the $20,000.00 reward offered by the family and friends of Brittany Willis, what he received was a murder charge and 39 months wrongfully incarcerated. The charge against Johnson was based solely on the testimony of Meeks, who fingered Johnson in retaliation for “snitching.” Years later, after the misplaced anger had subsided, Meeks recanted his statements about Johnson, leaving the prosecution without probable cause. That is when two eyewitnesses suddenly appeared, both with connections to the Wilson Police Department, to help provide a basis for taking the case to trial. However, increased media scrutiny and public outrage caused the prosecutor to re-think that approach… the eyewitnesses quietly disappeared.
In the case against Taylor, a good faith effort was not conducted into investigating the death of Jacquetta Thomas. Bringing charges against Taylor and Beck was a rush to judgment by Tom Ford in an attempt to close the murder case. In the Johnson case, police had in custody the killer (Kenneth Meeks, an African American) of Brittany Willis, but their outrage at the senseless crime against the white teenager spurred them to seek to punish as many young African American males as possible… their guilt or innocence being irrelevant.
Here are two cases where justice has been denied for James Arthur Johnson and Gregory Flint Taylor. Johnson was wrongfully incarcerated for 39 months, but eventually freed after charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery were dropped by a special prosecutor, and he ultimately made an Alford plea on a “misprision of felony” charge (a rarely used charge for citizens who do not report their knowledge of a crime). The case against Gregory Taylor should have an acceptable resolution after a three panel judge hears arguments seeking his release… the hearing beginning on Tuesday, February 9th. His freedom is the most important judgment that could be handed out by the judges, but it is certainly just a fraction of the restorative justice to which this innocent man, with an abundance of integrity, deserves.