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Cary man to get new hearing in 1991 murder

Posted September 4, 2009
Updated November 24, 2009

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— The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission unanimously decided on Friday to send an appeal from inmate Gregory Taylor to a three-judge panel who will consider whether to throw out his conviction.

The panel can free Taylor if they find clear and convincing evidence of his innocence.

Taylor was convicted in 1993 of the stabbing and beating death of 26-year-old Jacquetta Thomas, who worked as a prostitute. Police found her body on Blount Street early Sept. 26, 1991.

Taylor, who has served 16 years in prison for the crime, has maintained his innocence.

Cary man to get new trial in 1991 murder Family reacts to innocence commission decision

9/4: Innocence Commission decision on Taylor Sept. 4 Innocence Commission decision

“There is an answer to a lot of prayers,” Gregory Taylor's mother, Martine Strickland, said following the announcement.

The decision came after a day of testimony that included statements from another inmate who said he killed Thomas.

In a recording, Craig H. Taylor, 40, who is serving time as a habitual felon and drug dealer, told an investigator that he hit Thomas in the face and beat her to death with a bat. He said he tried to make look as if she were raped but did not rape her.

The two men share a last name, but are not related.

The interviewer asks, "When did you know she was dead?" Craig Taylor responds, "When she stopped."

The interviewer also asks, "Did you mean to kill her?" He answers, "I don't know what came over me."

In a letter to the commission dated Aug. 23, Craig Taylor wrote, "Tell Greg that I’m very sorry that he had to spend 16 years in prison for a crime he's never committed. I can’t make up for the 16 years he’s lost, but thanks to my confession he has a new start at freedom."

Relatives of Gregory Taylor cried when they heard that letter read at the hearing.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he is a “little skeptical” about Craig Taylor’s claims. Willoughby said the inmate has also confessed to other murders that were not substantiated.

Innocence Commission investigators said on Friday that Craig Taylor confessed to killing homeless people, but the Raleigh Police Department could not find the cases.

"We will proceed cautiously," Willoughby said.

Gregory Taylor's brother, Eddie Taylor, said in a press conference after the commission's decision that the family has "known he was innocent all along." He thanked the commission for its work.

Gregory Taylor’s daughter, Kristen Puryear, was 10 years old when her father went to prison.

“I have gotten married. I have had a son. I am just grateful he will be able to watch my son grow up and be apart of his grandson’s life and catch up on some lost time,” Puryear, now 26, said.

Commission officials said the only other case they sent to a three-judge panel took nine months before there was a resolution. Officials noted there is no determination how long it will take for Gregory Taylor's case.

Commission investigator Sharon Stellato said on Thursday that Craig Taylor asked her what would happen if he confessed to Thomas' murder. He was in Raleigh at the time of Thomas' death, she said.

Friday afternoon, experts testified that Thomas' injuries were consistent with blunt force trauma from a heavy, wooden object.

An expert also testified that he found Craig Taylor's confession to be credible. His story, the expert said, was consistent with police reports, including details that weren't in early media accounts of the killing. Craig Taylor, who has HIV, seemed to be acting from a desire to get the crime off his conscience, the expert said.

Witnesses said that police questioned both Taylors and a third man, Johnny Beck, on the day Thomas' body was found. All three denied killing her. Charges against Johnny Beck were eventually dismissed.

On Thursday, the commission heard from a prostitute who testified about seeing three men with Thomas and doing drugs that night.

Her testimony to the commission had inconsistencies from her testimony at Gregory Taylor's trial, including the race of the men who she remembered doing certain things, the color of a truck and the time she saw the men.

The commission also learned that DNA testing was inconclusive but did not match Gregory Taylor and heard from witnesses who contradicted or were inconsistent compared to their testimony in 1993.

Commission investigators said they found no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.

Editor's Note: WRAL News incorrectly reported that in the 1993 trial prosecutors argued Gregory Taylor was a heroin dealer. This assertion was actually made by Sierra Pharr, daughter of murder victim, Jacquetta Thomas. Prosecutors, however, did argue during the trial that Taylor was a cocaine user and confessed during interviews with police that he was smoking crack the night of the murder.


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  • FoxtrotUniformCharlieKiloakaCALM Sep 7, 2009

    Too bad not all victims of the "need" to find someone guilty ASAP in our legal system can't get a fair retrial. We are often so quick to judge and the victims want a 'resolution' so quickly they don't care who goes to jail as long as someone is in jail, no matter who it is.

    God is the final judge, those officers that purposefully make someone look guilty will face their final judge one day. Not saying that this guy is innocent but we all know that our legal system isn't perfect and it's guilty until proven innocent.

    Make sure you always have an alibi or you'll be next!

  • 1WakeCitizen Sep 4, 2009

    Hey Professor...I think you meant to say "murderer" instead of "murder." And how do you know he is guilty? are you holding evidence???
    If this man is innocent, once again, another blunder in our messed up legal system. Too many coincidences...."Greg" vs. "Craig" and same last name. I guess they couldn't see one man was black and one white. Hmmmmm. wonder if the entire courtroom was asleep during the trial?
    IF, and I say IF....this man is innocent, good ole Bev better get her checkbook ready - and I hope he gets every nickel in her rainy day fund.

  • teacher-mom Sep 4, 2009

    There are a lot of innocent people in prison. There are even more people who should be in prison but aren't. I hope he is freed. This will cost the taxpayers.

  • hazeyc Sep 4, 2009

    Diamondeyes - I can't wait for Tater to come home either. I know you know him.
    I can't believe the emotion it has churned up in me since reading and listening about how close he is to being released.

    Everyone else in the world - this guy is innocent!!!! Don't let procedure get in the way of the truth.

    The prosecuters job is to ensure prosecution not reveal the truth. Thank goodness for the Innocence Commission for pursing the truth!!!!

    Let my friend out now!!!!

  • pinehorse Sep 4, 2009

    Simple mistake. Both men named Taylor and 'Greg' sounds like 'Craig.' Prosecutors get real busy sometimes and I guess this one simply failed to look at the pictures; or listen to any testimony; or to use his brain. Could have happened to any of 'em. Lawyers will be lawyers. If I was Greg, I'd be working things out on my handy calculator right about now, to come up with some figures that sort of equal... well, 16 years!!!

  • Diamondeyes Sep 4, 2009

    Welcome Home Soon "Tater" Welcome Home!!!!!!

  • Doctor Dataclerk Sep 4, 2009

    WRAL "The two men share a last name, but are not related."

    Wow, look at the two pictures, man that some real investigative reporting. One guy is white and the other man is black.

  • iron fist Sep 4, 2009

    I don't oppose the death penalty but there should be no doubt of guilt. Murder, rape, child molesters etc deserve the death penalty.

  • Professor Sep 4, 2009

    They should never allow this murder to become free. That would be a tragedy!

  • Coach K is still GREAT Sep 4, 2009

    Apology, Aplogy, Apology!!!! The daugher needs to APOLOGIZE.
    This man should get 1 million dollars for each year he spent in jail, give him his life back. Does this sound familiar to anyone who was reading any posts from yesterdays story regarding the gentleman who was wrongfully accused of rape (this time)and served 14 years in prison???