After the unanimous September 2009 decision of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission to recommend the case of Gregory F. Taylor be taken before a three judge panel for adjudication, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby had the perfect opportunity to work to free the man who had spent 17 years wrongly incarcerated for a murder which the state failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt. Instead, he chose to fight the release of Taylor by first requesting a lengthy delay in the hearing. The judge refused to acquiesce and the February 2010 date of the hearing remained firm.
Because Greg Taylor had already lost 17 years of his life behind bars, I felt that each day was especially precious, and I wrote two letters to the Wake district attorney imploring him to work to have Mr. Taylor released as soon as possible and forego the scheduled hearing before the three judge panel. D.A. Willoughby never responded to my correspondence and refused to do so. Instead, with the assistance of Tom Ford – the prosecutor responsible for Taylor’s initial conviction in 1993, Willoughby proceeded to argue before the three judge panel to have Greg Taylor remain imprisoned for the rest of his life.
There was never a question in my mind about the outcome of the three judge panel’s decision, as Tom Ford’s “rush to judgment without credible evidence” case in 1993 was fraught with problems: no forensic evidence linking the victim to Taylor or Taylor to the victim; prosecutor testimony of two witnesses who fingered Taylor in exchange for the promise of a reduced sentence; blood evidence on Taylor’s vehicle which the State SBI lab knew was not of human origin; and the motive for the murder did not hold water. The state’s case against Greg Taylor was so weak that I believe that first year Campbell University law students representing Taylor would have prevailed before the panel of jurists… despite the burden of proof being shifted to the defense.
Now, had Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby followed my advice and taken the initiative to release Mr. Taylor prior to the February hearing, then the testimony from prosecution witness Duane Deaver about SBI lab’s uneven reporting practices in 1993 might never have come to light. According to Mr. Deaver, protocol in place at that time prevented him from putting in his report the results of confirmatory tests which favored Taylor’s innocence and countered the presumptive test which tended to be damaging to Taylor. This revelation is of immense importance because other convictions won while this biased and flawed lab policy was in place could now possibly earn a second look. So even though Greg Taylor’s liberty was delayed for several weeks, in the big picture his sacrifice will enable many wrongly incarcerated innocents to have another shot at freedom.
I do not expect the state to welcome review of the cases and work hard to identify the wrongly accused. This was made apparent when North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper first stated that an internal review would be conducted. He later succumbed to the intense prodding by defense attorney Joseph Cheshire V to permit an external review of the cases. As Joseph Cheshire stated… to paraphrase, the people do not trust the state to conduct a fair and objective audit of its own past practices. Nor should they.
This hearing is not the first time that prosecutorial egos and the desire to protect the misconduct of a prosecutor overtook common sense. Not long ago the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office decided to retry Alan Gell despite the presence of irrefutable exculpatory evidence of his innocence. This trial was undertaken for the purpose of mitigating David Hoke’s obvious misconduct in the initial Gell trial in which he won a death penalty conviction. However, with the exculpatory evidence in play at the re-trial, the jury was quick to find Alan Gell not guilty. In a more recent case, Forsyth County prosecutor Belinda Foster was forced by D.A. Tom Keith to file an “accessory after the fact” charge against James Arthur Johnson while she dropped charges of murder, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery. Special prosecutor W. David McFadyen then stepped in to prosecute the case, which resulted in an Alford plea by Johnson to a charge of misprision of felony (not reporting knowledge of a crime to authorities). Now, although James Arthur Johnson did report to the Wilson Police three days after his knowledge of the crime (which resulted in the case being solved), he evidently did not report it quick enough.
So, thanks to the hubris and desire of Willoughby to shield Tom Ford from criticism of his prosecution of the innocent Greg Taylor, he did not take my advice and instead proceeded with fighting against the release of a man wrongfully convicted. And, as a result, other innocents may hopefully find another avenue by which they can obtain a justice that has been denied.