Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County prosecutors working to keep in prison a man convicted of killing a prostitute nearly 19 years ago called only two witnesses to testify for the state Monday in a hearing to determine whether he should be set free.
Sheila Crowder told the three-judge panel hearing evidence in the innocence case of Gregory Taylor that she remembered seeing Jacquetta Thomas get into the back passenger-side seat of what she thought was a white Pathfinder.
She saw the vehicle twice, she said. The first time, a white man who was driving had asked her if she knew anyone who wanted "to do something for drugs." When she said no, he drove away, Crowder testified.
It was the second time when she saw the vehicle, she said, that she saw Thomas get inside, she said.
Thomas, 26, was found dead Sept. 26 1991, at the end of a cul-de-sac on South Blount Street.
Taylor and a friend, Johnny Beck, were arrested and charged in her death within 12 hours of the body being found. Police linked them to the crime after finding Taylor's SUV nearby. Taylor and Beck testified to being in the area the night before smoking crack and that the truck had gotten stuck in mud.
Taylor, 47, testified that they saw what they thought was a body but did not report it to police.
He has maintained that he did not know Thomas and that he never had any contact with her.
In September, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry 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.
Having exhausted his appeals, he is relying on the panel to decide whether he should be set free. That decision is expected Wednesday.
Crowder testified that, although she had been drinking "quite a bit" and smoking crack cocaine, she was "confident" that she saw Thomas get into the vehicle.
She said the vehicle had two doors and that Beck got out of the car to let her get in. She never told investigators Beck got out of the SUV. Taylor's vehicle had four doors.
The state never called her as a witness during Taylor's 1993 trial, but she did give a statement to police days after Thomas' death. It wasn't until a couple years ago, she said, that she gave another statement about the case to investigators with the Innocence Commission.
During cross-examination Monday, she said she was mistaken about the white man asking her about the drugs and said it was "the black guy."
Also testifying for the state Monday, Brad Kennon, the Raleigh police officer who was the first person at the crime scene, testified that, although it had rained, the area wasn't "particularly muddy" and that he didn't observe any mud around Taylor's truck.
Before ending their case, Taylor's attorneys called Ernest Andrews, described earlier in the hearing by defense attorney Joseph Cheshire as a "jailhouse snitch," to the witness stand. Andrews said he stood by the testimony he gave that helped convict Taylor.
Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who heads the panel, pointed to Taylor and said to Andrews that Taylor had been in prison "in large measure, upon your sworn testimony ... Are you sticking with your sworn testimony today?"
"Yes, sir" Andrews said.
"Do you realize today the full impact of your testimony today (on Mr. Taylor)?" Manning asked.
"Yes," Andrews responded.
At trial, Andrews testified that Taylor told him in jail that he and another man took a girl out for a "good time," but that she got scared, jumped out of Taylor's truck and ran.
Taylor, Andrews testified, told Andrews he hit the girl, his friend "ran her down," her throat was cut and she "died with a smile."
During opening statements last week, Cheshire said Andrews had never talked to Taylor.
He grilled Andrews Monday about information police told him about the investigation and about his motives to talk to investigators about the case.
Andrews, who was being held because he had been sentenced for embezzling from the insulation company where he worked, testified Monday that he hoped his cooperation would help him get a reduced sentence but that it did not.
"I would say that, nine times out of 10, it would be to gain some type of favoritism," Andrews said.
Andrews said he could not remember certain details about the conversation and the timeline of when it occurred but stood by his original testimony, saying it was "true, to my recollection."
According to Cheshire, there were never any physical links between Thomas and Taylor. Police found no weapon and, despite investigators' claim of blood in Taylor's truck, there no blood evidence connecting the two.
Taylor's attorneys have also argued that the blood evidence was incomplete at trial, because tests used to confirm initial results from Taylor's truck were not made public.
State Bureau of Investigation Agent Duane Deaver testified Friday that, when a first test was positive for blood but a follow-up test was negative, the agency's policy was to state only that there was a chemical indication for the presence of blood.
"We were given the wording to use," Deaver said. The decision was made by people "a lot higher than my pay grade," he said.
Deaver's notes indicate that samples from Taylor's truck tested positive for blood in preliminary tests. But those samples tested negative in follow-up tests called takayama, his bench notes show.
His formal lab report, however, said only that the samples indicated the presence of blood.
"What was decided was how we should say the results," Deaver said. "Whether someone made a conscious decision not to report a negative takayama, I couldn't say."
He didn't tell the prosecutor, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Tom Ford, about the negative results, Deaver said, although he said he would have explained if he had testified.