The abominable legal proceeding in 1993 that resulted in an innocent man, Gregory Taylor, being locked away for seventeen years on a murder charge can be credited to Wake County prosecutor Tom Ford. When confronted with the 1991 murder of Jacquetta Thomas, an African American prostitute whose body was discovered in a desolate Raleigh cul-de-sac, Mr. Ford’s primary goal was to close the case quickly by convicting a “perpetrator.” Ford didn’t care whether or not the designated “perpetrator” was guilty or not, because he did not care about the victim or her family. So he set his sights on two unfortunate individuals who happened to come upon the body in the early morning hours after they were forced to walk from their vehicle which had gotten stuck in the mud.
Because the disabled vehicle belonged to Taylor, Ford felt obligated to charge him… but only as an accomplice. What Ford really wanted was to pressure Taylor to implicate Johnny Beck, the black man with whom Taylor had been doing drugs just hours prior to the discovery of the body. Other than walking by the body earlier in the morning, there was no physical evidence connecting Taylor or his African American friend to the crime. Furthermore, no plausible motive existed for Taylor or Beck to attack Ms. Thomas. To win a conviction, Ford would resort to the tactic which he has honed to an art… obtain perjured testimony in exchange for the promise of leniency or a reduced sentence.
No “Minister of Justice” Prosecutor Tom Ford believed that this cut and dried case would be shut and closed easily, by threatening Taylor with life in prison unless he cooperated with his demands that he implicate the black man (who Ford had no reason to believe was guilty of the homicide). After all, Ford believed, Greg Taylor did not come from the upper echelon of society, he was not of a privileged class, and he was a drug user. And, all he had to do was implicate a black man… how hard could that be? An easy choice, right? It would have been an easy choice for Ford, and probably 99 per cent of people in the state. But this would not be a slam dunk for Ford, because he had not counted on Taylor possessing the integrity and moral compass to withstand his despicable offer.
Gregory Taylor never wavered in the accounting of his innocence and that of Johnny Beck, but that didn’t deter Prosecutor Ford. Tom Ford was obsessed with putting the African American man behind bars for life, and Taylor’s refusal to join his conspiracy did nothing but fuel Ford’s animus towards Taylor. Because Taylor would not comply with Ford’s game plan, Ford utilized the same “perjured testimony” tactic (that he tried unsuccessfully to employ using Taylor to implicate Beck) to obtain a guilty verdict against Taylor. Ford approached two disreputable individuals and promised them a reduction in their sentences in exchange for testimony that would implicate Greg Taylor in the murder of Ms. Thomas. They both jumped at the opportunity, lied before the court, and handed Prosecutor Ford his tainted courtroom victory. As a result, Taylor was sentenced to serve the remainder of his life in prison. He served seventeen long years in prison before the truth of his indisputable innocence would surface.
It was during the hearing which freed Taylor that it became apparent that Ford not only employed false witnesses in obtaining Taylor’s conviction, but that he also used false science. SBI agent Duane Deaver, it seems, had given misleading and false testimony about the presence of blood on the bumper of Taylor’s SUV, which became mired in the mud the night of the Thomas murder. Although he knew that presumptive tests for blood were not supported by a confirmative lab test, Deaver did not give such testimony in court. The jury was misled into believing that blood from Taylor’s vehicle was linked to the body. Taylor’s 2010 hearing before the three judge panel that exonerated him also exposed how Ford used a little hocus pocus on the 1992 jury in winning a conviction by getting tracking dog handlers to imply that a trail could be traced from the victim to Taylor’s vehicle.
Tom Ford orchestrated the cruel and vindictive prosecution against Gregory Taylor, skillfully bringing in false witnesses and false testimony resulting in a conviction. However, the media has given Ford a pass on this debacle, and instead has zeroed in on Duane Deaver. The News & Observer led the charge against Deaver and the SBI with its four part series on the misdeeds of the SBI in the Taylor case. However, in compliance with its PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong) Policy, Ford’s name was mentioned only once or twice (and then, in passing). So, the criminal justice system, in following the media’s lead, has ordered a contempt hearing for Mr. Deaver on the charge that he made false and misleading testimony before the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission in 2009. According to a recent News & Observer article, a date for the hearing has not been set. Deaver has become the sacrificial lamb for the miscues, mistakes, and malfeasance that resulted in an innocent man spending seventeen of his most productive years of life behind bars.
Focusing attention on SBI Agent Deaver, not only provides a scapegoat for the injustice that befell Greg Taylor, but it is to divert attention from the true culprit, Tom Ford. To believe that Ford did not know the substance on the bumper was not blood defies logic. Ford’s stock and trade in prosecuting comes from eliciting perjured courtroom testimony in exchange for promises of a reduced sentence. Deaver was nothing more than Ford’s accomplice. That’s not to say that Deaver should not face a hearing on his conduct, but I believe that his position is more defensible because he worked in a culture where it was acceptable to stretch the truth in order to obtain the desired outcome of a conviction. And it appears that Deaver was more than willing to work with vigilante prosecutors in their pursuit of rogue justice.
Despite the suffering experienced by Gregory Taylor and his family, the unresolved murder of Jacquetta Thomas and its impact on her family and friends, Tom Ford seems to have weathered the storm unscathed. The media has handled him with Teflon gloves and even powerhouse defense attorney Joseph B. Cheshire V complimented Ford on how well he handled the prosecution’s interests in Taylor’s February 2010 hearing. In fact, Cheshire, who represented Taylor in his hearing before the three judge panel, never uttered a disparaging word about Ford… a prosecutor who needlessly left many shattered lives in his wake. Now, Cheshire has no problem with castigating former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong who was prosecuting the Duke Lacrosse case. That is because the Duke Lacrosse prosecution by Nifong was a North Carolina legal aberration in that it did not comply with the state’s tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.” Cheshire was vociferous and upfront in his criticism of Nifong, pleading for the severest of sanctions against him, despite the fact that Mr. Nifong was doing nothing more than pursuing a prosecution which was well within acceptable standards. However, on the subject of Prosecutor Tom Ford (whose malicious, vindictive and vile prosecution of Cheshire’s own client Greg Taylor), Cheshire is as silent as a dormouse.
In North Carolina it is acceptable to sacrifice a prosecutor, such as Mr. Nifong, in order to set an example of what will happen if a prosecutor steps beyond the bounds of the state’s tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.” It is also acceptable to sacrifice a designated scapegoat from another sector, such as SBI agent Duane Deaver, in order to protect a prosecutor who zealously clings to the state’s selective justice tenet.