After 16 Years in Prison, Innocent Man Set Free By State Panel


The country’s only panel dedicated to proving the innocence of convicted people has won a groundbreaking case.

The North Carolina Innocence Commission is the only state-run agency that works to overturn wrongful convictions, and this week it helped free Greg Taylor, a man who spent more than 16 years in prison for the murder of a prostitute.

The case began in 1991, when Taylor and a friend, Johnny Beck, drove an SUV into a wooded cul-de-sac area to smoke crack cocaine. When they tried to leave, the vehicle got stuck, and so the two men walked towards the main road to hitch a ride. On their way, however, they found a body—that of Jacquetta Thomas. When Thomas’s body was later discovered, authorities pinned the crime on Taylor, despite a lack of evidence to show his involvement in the beating death. Several eyewitnesses who testified against Taylor at the time have since recanted their testimony, leaving only a jailhouse informant and a woman who was admittedly high on crack cocaine, beer and wine at the time of the incident to maintain that Taylor was involved.

The most critical piece of evidence that helped exonerate Taylor was the statement of a State Bureau of Investigation agent. Duane Deaver said that complete blood test results, per policy of the bureau, were excluded from the lab reports that were admitted during Taylor’s initial trial.

Taylor steadfastly refused either to confess to the crime, or to testify against Beck in return for a plea deal. Instead, he served time—over 16 years’ worth. He was freed this week by a three-judge panel, after six days of arguments and testimony.

The North Carolina Innocence Commission was established in 2006 by that state’s lawmakers, and remains the only such state-run agency in the country. Only three cases of the several hundred that have come up for review by the committee have made it to a hearing before its commissioners, and only one other besides Taylor’s has come before a three-judge panel. That case was rejected.

After his handcuffs were removed, Taylor embraced his daughter, Kristen Puryear, and the son-in-law he had never met, and said that he was looking forward to a home-cooked meal. He also received an apology from Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, whose office had effectively kept Taylor locked up, and who told the freed man that he wished all the evidence had been available at the time of his trial.


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