Raleigh, N.C. — It's now up to three Superior Court judges to decide whether a Cary man should go free after nearly 17 years in prison for a murder he claims he didn't commit.
Attorneys concluded closing arguments Wednesday morning in the sixth and final day of an evidentiary hearing in the case Gregory Taylor, 47, who was convicted in 1993 of the murder of Jacquetta Thomas.
Thomas, 26, a prostitute, was found dead Sept. 26 1991, at the end of a cul-de-sac on South Blount Street in Raleigh.
"None of the defendant's evidence proves his innocence by any standard, much less clear and convincing evidence," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. "The defendant did not produce any new, credible verifiable evidence of innocence and he didn't meet his burden."
The three judges hearing the case are expected to issue a decision later Wednesday. Judge Howard Manning did not offer a time on when it might be reached.
"I submit to you that Mr. Taylor has more than carried his burden and that the state of North Carolina has done nothing to disprove it," Taylor's attorney, Joseph Cheshire said during his closing arguments. "Innocent people are frequently convicted of crimes."
The judicial panel is hearing the case because the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission – the only state-run agency in the country that investigates claims of innocence – recommended it for further review.
It is only the second case in the commission's four-year history that has gone up for an evidentiary hearing.
For five days, Taylor's attorneys have argued there were never any physical links between Thomas and Taylor and that despite investigators' claim of blood on Taylor's truck – it was found about 100 yards from the crime scene – there was no evidence connecting the two.
"Whether this was blood or not doesn't prove or disprove who committed this murder," Willoughby said, calling the blood argument a "red herring."
It was developed, he said, to make the judges forget the claims of Craig Taylor, who said he killed Thomas. Prosecutors have argued his confession – one of the reasons the Innocence Commission referred the case – was not credible because he has confessed to more than 70 homicides, none in which his were substantiated.
"Someone else confessed to the crime," Willoughby said. "We've never heard about it again."
"What we have in this case is the defendant's denial," he continued.
Taylor testified that he and a friend were smoking crack in the area the night before Thomas was found and that he got his truck in the mud. He also 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.
"I believe that in this case, in Greg Taylor's own words, he's overextended his memory," Willoughby said. "He's testified to things that just aren't logical. They're not credible. They're not verifiable, and they're not believable."
"He had to know that the police would be coming to look for him when they found the body and they found that truck there," he continued. "He had to know that if he got a tow truck driver and went down there, that the tow truck driver would call the police immediately as soon as he saw that body."