Raleigh, N.C. — A convicted murderer getting a second chance at freedom testified Tuesday that he felt like police investigators were trying to trick him into confessing to a crime he maintains he did not commit.
"I had the truth on my side, but they just did not want to listen to it and made no effort to verify it," Gregory Taylor said during a hearing before a three-judge panel that will decide whether he should be released from prison.
"They just kept on me with accusations and tricks. I knew they were tricks because I was innocent. There's no way he could have any substance to this," he continued.
Taylor, 47, was convicted April 19, 1993, of first-degree murder in the Sept. 26, 1991, stabbing and beating death of 26-year-old Jacquetta Thomas.
The case is the second to go before a panel of Superior Court judges appointed by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, established in 2007 by the General Assembly to investigate and evaluate claims and evidence not considered at trial.
In September, the commission referred Taylor's case to the panel for an evidentiary hearing – not a trial.
Taylor and another man, Johnny Beck, were arrested and charged about 12 hours after police found Thomas' body on South Blount Street in Raleigh.
Taylor testified Tuesday that he and Beck were in the area on the night of Sept. 25 to buy and use cocaine and that he got his truck stuck in the mud. He said he saw a body in the road as well as another person he thought to be a man but did not call police because he had been using cocaine and was paranoid.
When he returned to get his truck the next day, investigators were already at the scene, he said, and that he offered to talk to police, never thinking he would be charged.
"I didn't think I was guilty of anything, except maybe not calling police," Taylor said.
Defense attorney Joseph Cheshire also argued that police never pursued any other suspects in the case and that there was never any evidence to link his client to Thomas' death.
"Police made no effort to see if there were other people who may have had a motive," Cheshire said.
Instead, he said, investigators used a false report of blood in and on Taylor's truck and testimony of a "jailhouse snitch" to help convict him.
"An examination of physical and factual evidence in this case will show that Greg Taylor did not commit this crime," Cheshire said.
There were never any physical links between Thomas and Taylor, Cheshire said. Police found no weapon and, despite investigators' claim of blood in Taylor's truck, there no blood evidence connecting the two. Blood tests were "presumptive" but not confirmed, he said.
There were also defensive wounds on Thomas' body, but there were no scratches on Taylor or Beck, he added.
Cheshire said Ernest Andrews, a witness for the state had never met Taylor but that he told police Taylor cut Thomas' throat and that she died with a smile on her face. Andrews had been in jail awaiting a prison sentence and had been looking to make a plea deal, Cheshire said.
"Her throat was not cut," Cheshire said. "She did not die with a smile."
Witness Eva Kelly initially told investigators she saw Thomas with a man who wasn't Taylor, Cheshire said. In jail on a probation violation, she later changed her account to say Taylor was with Thomas, and in exchange for her testimony received a reduced sentence.
Taylor and Beck both denied being involved in the crime, and Beck was eventually released because there was not enough evidence to convict him.
Not mentioned Tuesday was evidence presented before the Innocence Commission in September that included statements from another inmate, Craig H. Taylor, who confessed to killing Thomas.
Craig Taylor, 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.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has called Craig Taylor "a flawed witness" because he has confessed to more than 70 homicides that have been false.