“The whole world knows I’m innocent.” –Louis C. Taylor
In what way does overturning an apparent wrongful conviction after an individual has served some 42 years in prison, without allowing the one so convicted to seek corrective redress, an act of justice?
That is a question which many who have been following the case of 59-year-old Louis Cuen Taylor for years, and which others just learning about it, are asking after his recent release from the Arizona State Prison system. Taylor’s freedom came with the condition that he plead “no contest” to charges that he set fire to the historic Pioneer Hotel in Tucson, Arizona, on December 19, 1970. The blaze took the lives of 28 people (the number was first reported as 29 until investigators realized they had counted one victim twice).
Initial reports regarding Taylor’s whereabouts on that night place him at the scene helping others escape. Later reports characterize him as staring at the fire while it burned and responding incoherently when questioned by police (without the presence of a lawyer or parent). In response to the statement that he had several boxes of matches in his possession when first taken into custody, Taylor stated at a Tucson press conference on April 3, “The police gave me those matches and cigarettes too. I was a smoker.”
The one thing nearly every observer––whether prosecutor or defender–– of Taylor’s case agrees on at this point is that by today’s investigation standards and arson science, it would be impossible to convict him in a new trial. In addition, given the key witness Cy Holmes’ presumptuous statement that a black man around 18 years old had likely started the fire, based on nothing more than a stroll through the hotel more than a week later, it is difficult to rule out the element of racial bias in Taylor’s case.
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