Raleigh, N.C. — When the state Innocence Inquiry Commission awarded Greg Taylor his freedom Wednesday, the process was especially gratifying for the man whose vision and expertise led to the group’s formation.
The Innocence Inquiry Commission, which investigates and evaluates post-conviction claims of factual innocence, is the only agency of its kind in the country. Taylor’s was the first case referred by the commission to result in a finding of innocence.
The commission is part of the legacy of retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake.
“It was the absolutely the most wonderful moment in almost a lifetime,” Lake said of the moment when a three-judge panel unanimously decided there was clear and convincing evidence that proved Taylor is innocent.
Lake spent the early part of the decade championing the formation of the panel after several high-profile cases in which people convicted in North Carolina courts were shown to be innocent.
Among them was the case of Daryl Hunt, a Winston-Salem man who spent more than 18 years in prison on a murder conviction before DNA evidence cleared him of the charges in 2004.
“We do make mistakes and it's incumbent upon us when we find out we've made a mistake to rectify that mistake as quickly as possible,” Lake said.
He had compliments for Taylor, who spent 17 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit.
“I think he's handled himself beautifully throughout his service in prison,” Lake said.
“I can't imagine anything more horrible than being in prison and know that you're innocent.”
Lake thinks the North Carolina system could be a model for other states to follow.
“I believe it stands a good chance of going nationwide. I hope so. We're way ahead and I'm willing for others to catch up,” he said.
Lake retired from the bench three years ago.