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Testimony concludes in Taylor innocence hearing

Posted February 15, 2010

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— 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.

41 Comments

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  • mommy2caroline Feb 16, 2010

    Such awesome, law-abiding witnesses we have here! Lends such credibility to this case! Drugs are bad, m'kay?

  • hazeyc Feb 16, 2010

    RaleighSaltyDog and a few others - "The Judges MUST,according to statutes, elect to keep Mr. Taylor in prison unless he proves, beyond any doubt, that he is innocent and was wrongly convicted...."

    That is incorrect - below is the actual statute, which is less burdensome than beyond a reasonable doubt, much less any doubt.

    (J) Judicial Standard. The three judge panel will hear the evidence and determine if there is clear and convincing evidence of the convicted person’s innocence. N.C. G.S. § 15A-1469(h).

  • hazeyc Feb 16, 2010

    "She 1st said Taylor got out of the 2 door vehicle, which actually has 4 doors."

    This along with the WRAL article is incorrect. The pathfinder has only 2 doors.

    The lady first testified that the victim got in the back seat. Then realizing the SUV only had 2 doors then changed her testimony to say that Beck got out and let her in the back seat. She insisted that Ms. Thomas sat behind Beck when the defense showed she couldn't have due to all the stuff on that seat.

  • progrills Feb 16, 2010

    Willoughby and Ford otherwise known as the Two Fire Hydrants at the Dog Show......

  • itsmyownopinion Feb 16, 2010

    Quote from story: "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."

    Yeah, don't we all remember for nearly 20 years exactly what we saw when we're drinking quite a bit and smoking crack?

  • Inter Alios Feb 16, 2010

    raleighsaltydog: the burden of proof is not "beyond any doubt", but beyond a reasonable doubt. A key piece of evid. at the original trial was Deaver's blood test report which we now know was not accurate, thus reasonable doubt. The crack hooker who said she saw Thomas get in the vehicle had drank a 5th of liquor, smoked 5 crack rocks, and drank 4 40 oz. beers. Do you actually think she could remember her name the next day? Would you consider her testimony sufficiently reliable to convict your son or daughter? She 1st said Taylor got out of the 2 door vehicle, which actually has 4 doors. Then, she said it was Beck who got out to let Thomas get in the back seat, which according to police photos were laid down and covered with beach and sporting items. Why do you think the prosecution never called her to testify at trial? The jail snitch had his facts all wrong - Thomas' throat not cut. Thomas' blood and other DNA would have been found inside the vehicle, if it was there.

  • Deman Feb 15, 2010

    "I still contend that Mr. Taylor has not proven that he DID NOT kill Ms. Thomas" --------
    It is very difficult to prove a negative, no doubt about it. That is the problem here. How do you prove you did not kill somebody when the 'evidence' used to convict you does not prove you killed somebody?

    I do look forward to you pressing the Wake Co DA's office on why they decided to drop the murder charges on Mr Beck. I guess you feel the State knowingly let a murderer go free for some reason when they had the evidence to lock him up. Please keep us posted on your investigation as to why the State let Mr Beck go free. After all, if the witnesses in this case are to be believed, Mr Beck is the actual killer. How can that evidence be good enough to convict the one that stayed in the truck but so bad that the charges were dropped against the one that did the 'cutting'?

  • raleighsaltydog Feb 15, 2010

    The reported confession was not presented by the defense, nor is it part of the evidence that the panel will consider. If you watched today's hearing session, you heard Judge Manning declare that ALL evidence was to be presented in a "public" forum. The three Judge panel will not consider a proported confession since it was not made part of the evidence. I still contend that Mr. Taylor has not proven that he DID NOT kill Ms. Thomas; which is what he was compelled to do in this hearing. A jury has already said he did...he must prove he did not! The Judges MUST,according to statutes, elect to keep Mr. Taylor in prison unless he proves, beyond any doubt, that he is innocent and was wrongly convicted....which he has not done!

  • dholes Feb 15, 2010

    This sounds like a good case for 48 Hours Mystery.

  • DocZ Feb 15, 2010

    Raleighsaltydog, are you unaware that the Innocence commission has a confession to the murder from the victim's ex-boyfriend? This was admitted, with certain stipulations by both sets of attorneys, but not read during the public portion of the hearing.

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