Raleigh, N.C. — A former prostitute and a State Bureau of Investigation agent testified Friday during a hearing that could exonerate a man convicted of murder nearly 17 years ago.
A three-judge panel appointed by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission will decide if there is enough new evidence to reverse Gregory Taylor's conviction in the stabbing and beating death of 26-year-old Jacquetta Thomas on Sept. 26, 1991.
Raleigh police arrested and charged Taylor and his friend, Johnny Beck, with murder less than 12 hours after an officer found Thomas' body in a cul-de-sac on South Blount Street. Charges against Beck were dismissed, but Taylor was convicted in April 1993 and sentenced to life in prison.
In September, the Innocence Commission, which investigates and evaluates post-conviction claims of innocence and evidence not considered at trial, decided that there was enough evidence to warrant a review of Taylor's case.
On Friday afternoon, SBI assistant special agent-in-charge Duane Deaver testified about reporting the results of blood tests he did on evidence. Positive results for blood on Taylor's SUV were presented at his trial.
Deaver acknowledged Friday that, while initial tests on some items from Taylor's SUV were positive for blood, follow-up tests were negative. Given the contradictory test results, Deaver said he could not say with "scientific certainty" that there was blood on Taylor's truck.
His bench notes noted the negative results, but his formal lab report did not. Deaver said that SBI guidelines required him to report the presence of blood if any of three tests came back positive.
Reading the report, only someone who "understood the language" would know if there were also negative results, he said. Wake County Assistant District Attorney Tom Ford, who originally prosecuted Taylor, did not ask if there were negative results, and Deaver said he was not called to testify at the trial.
"I wrote the report, and it's used the way it's used," Deaver said.
SBI officials are trying to find the policy on lab reports that would have been in place in the early 1990s, said Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office.
Earlier Friday, the defense called as its final witness Rose Hitch, who once worked as a prostitute under the name Eva Marie Kelly. She has since married and changed her name.
At Taylor's 1993 trial, Hitch testified that she saw Taylor twice: once, with a black man when they tried to pick her up on the street; then, later that night, with Thomas in the kitchen at Hitch's residence.
Hitch told the judges Friday that a black man and white man pulled up in an SUV while she stood outside her rooming house on East Street. They tried to pick her up, but she turned them down and waited for a friend.
Hitch said that later, she and her friend encountered a woman she called Jackie with a black man and white man standing around the kitchen table, which was covered with drugs. Hitch said her friend left because of that, and she yelled at the people to leave. They left by separate doors, but from a side window, she saw Jackie get in the men's pickup truck, Hitch said.
Defense attorney Joseph Cheshire pressed Hitch to admit inaccuracies in what she testified at trial and told police investigators and the Innocence Commission at different times.
Hitch acknowledged that she wasn't sure if all her testimony, particularly the time line, was accurate. "Times I'm confused on, because I never kept track of time then," she said.
Cheshire suggested that it could have been a different woman whom Hitch saw in the kitchen – another prostitute also named Jackie or Barbara Ray, who testified Thursday that she was in the kitchen with Taylor in the early morning. Thomas would have been dead by that time, he said.
But Hitch insisted that her trial testimony was "truthful" and remained firm that it was Thomas she saw in the kitchen.
"I believe it to be Jackie," she said.
Cheshire also noted that in exchange for her testimony, Hitch received a shortened prison sentence for probation violations. Ford said that Hitch agreed to testify before being told her sentenced would be shortened.
Cheshire asked Hitch, "Would you bet 17 years of your life in prison on your recollection?"
"No," Hitch whispered.
The judges do not expect to make a decision before next Wednesday.
If Taylor is found not guilty, he would be the first person freed by work by the Innocence Commission. It was established in 2007 and has received nearly 500 applications from inmates.