Local News

Taylor, now free: 'Truth has prevailed'

Posted February 17, 2010
Updated February 18, 2010

— A Cary man who spent nearly two decades in prison on a first-degree murder conviction walked away from a courtroom Wednesday a free man after a three-judge panel decided he was convicted of a crime he didn't commit.

"It's unbelievable," Gregory Taylor, 47, said, encircled by family, friends and media. "I mean, you think all these years what this day would be like – 6,149 days, and finally the truth has prevailed."

'I'm still in shock,' Taylor says 'I'm still in shock,' Taylor says

Taylor was convicted in April 1993 in the 1991 death of Jacquetta Thomas, a prostitute found dead at the end of a Raleigh cul-de-sac.

Taylor had exhausted all avenues of appeals when the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission reviewed his case and decided in September that it merited a review before the special panel.

"I feel like I'm dreaming," Taylor's daughter, Kristen Puryear, 26, said.

"She was 9 years old when I went to prison," Taylor said, embracing her for one of the first times as a free man. "I missed her 10th birthday, I missed her 16th birthday. … I missed her marriage. I missed the birth of my grandson. Now all of that's returned."

"And I'm taking him home," Puryear said.

For six days, Taylor's attorneys argued there were never any physical links between Thomas and Taylor and that despite investigators' claim of blood on Taylor's Nissan Pathfinder, there was no evidence connecting the two.

They wrapped up Wednesday morning with closing arguments in which Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said the evidence presented in support of Taylor wasn't logical, credible or believable. (Read more about the closing arguments.)

"I did not know what to expect," Willoughby said of the judges' decision. "I felt like it was our responsibility to present the evidence and to allow the three-judge panel to make their decision and do what they found the evidence showed."

In asking the judges to free Taylor, defense attorney Joseph Cheshire urged them to undo a wrong and to help assure the public that the judicial system is changing to help ensure it does not happen again.

"Out of tragedy and sadness can actually come a better world," Cheshire said. "Nothing makes our system better than the public acknowledgment that mistakes have been made."

'Innocence points out injustice'

Wednesday's ruling marks the first in the state's history in which a prisoner has been exonerated because of the involvement of the Innocence Commission – the only state-run agency in the country that investigates post-conviction claims of innocence.

Taylor's case is the second case in the commission's four-year history that has gone up for an evidentiary hearing where only new evidence is considered. As of January, the commission has reviewed 634 cases, 463 of which were rejected – the others are in various stages of review or have been closed.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Cheshire credited the agency and the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence for their attention to the case and for finding inconsistencies with evidence and testimony from Taylor's trial.

"This is one of those fantastic days," he said. "We should all look at this day as a positive day for the state of North Carolina. No innocent, wrongfully accused person should ever have to spend a day in prison."

Gov. Beverly Perdue described the commission as setting "a new standard of jurisprudence in America."

"I believe in this Innocence Commission, and I believe the ruling today shows bad things can happen, even in the finest of systems," she said.

Joining the likes of Dwayne Dail and Darryl Hunt – both men were wrongly convicted of separate crimes and each freed after spending 18 years in prison – Taylor said he hopes to do work to help other people in situations similar to his.

"This is not just about innocent people, this is about injustice," Taylor said. "Innocence points out injustice."

'It is just not over ... Now what?'

Although Taylor's innocence has been a focus of prosecutors and defense attorneys over the course of years, Sierra Pharr, Thomas' daughter, doesn’t want people to forget her mother.

"It makes us feel, as far as our mom's case, 'Who really cares?'" said Pharr, who was 5 years old when Thomas was killed.

"The fact that someone who gave birth to you was taken from you as horrible and tragic as she was, it hurts," she said.

With Taylor now free, all she wants to know is who killed her mother.

Raleigh police declined to comment on the court's decision Wednesday evening or the status of the case but urged anyone with information to come forward.

"It is just not over," Pharr said. "There is a lot of questions. Where is this person? Who did it? Now what?"

222 Comments

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  • gandalla Feb 18, 5:19 p.m.

    and to think there has been a killer running around for the past 17 years because the da and sbi agent were to crooked to put in some real work and find the real killer.

  • wildcat Feb 18, 4:26 p.m.


    Taylor, now free: 'Truth has prevailed'

    The truth was always there. The prosecutor, judge and jury did not see the truth. All they wanted was someone to fill the seat. They should be ashamed of themselves. Thanks for the organization that helped free this man. He lost 17 years of his life that he will never be able to get back. What is the judge, prosecutor and juries saying now? They all should feel terrible. What do their children and grandchidren think of them for sending an innocent man to prison?

  • wildcat Feb 18, 4:15 p.m.

    Had the mother not been in the streets, she may have been alive today. Praying for her daugher that she will get through this. The killer is still loose.

  • itsmyownopinion Feb 18, 4:00 p.m.

    I wonder how much he will be awarded in a lawsuit, possibly multiple lawsuits? Convictions for wrongful imprisonment across the country are increasingly being overturned. Here's another recent payout: Tim Masters is to receive $4.1 million from Larimer County, Colo., for being wrongly convicted in the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick, whose sexually mutilated body was found in a field near his family's home. Sound familiar?

  • wildcat Feb 18, 3:48 p.m.

    CONGRATULATIONS ON THIS MAN'S FREEDOM. STATE OWES HIM BIG TIME.

    MEAN WHILE, EVERYONE SHOULD REALIZE THAT THE KILLER HAS BEEN WALKING THIS EARTH FOR 17 YEARS. WILL THEY PUT HIM BEHIND BARS? BUT FIRST, THEY HAVE TO FIND OUT WHO HE IS.

  • wildcat Feb 18, 3:47 p.m.

    Give the Lord the praises for putting in the hearts of the people to free this man from a crime he never did do. There are many more free people sitting in prison. Prosecutors should do everything to get proof of evidence before sending an innocent person to prison. How can they along with the jury sleep at night?

  • Historian-the naked gardener Feb 18, 2:50 p.m.

    Did I hear them say on the news that the blood evidence against this man was fabricated? I also heard that someone else had confessed to this crime some time ago.

  • whateveryousay Feb 18, 2:29 p.m.

    This man has a long way to go. I would think being free is going to be such a huge adjustment, as the idea of freedom and actually being free, after being locked up for 17 years will be so physchologically taxing. I hope he seeks the the help he will need to transition into society, so his freedom doesn't turn tradgic.

  • HappyGirl08 Feb 18, 11:22 a.m.

    Well, if he didn't do it I'm glad he was freed. I have a feeling this is going to cost the state a ton of "ooops, sorry for putting you in prison falsely" $$ though.

  • R_U_breakdance fighting Feb 18, 11:21 a.m.

    "yes, let's all remember this man's case as you all cast stones at Brad Cooper. innocent until proven guilty."

    Um, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it MUST be a duck.

    In this case, there was no REAL evidence against him, obviously.

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