Behind the Doc

Taylor's story highlights flaws in justice system

Posted April 18, 2012 5:52 p.m. EDT

Greg Taylor’s case was summed up well by attorney Mike Klinkosum in our documentary “6,149 Days” when he said, “This whole thing was rotten from the beginning." First there was the rush to judgment by police who locked onto Taylor immediately and never looked for other possible suspects. Then there was the trial where the state’s evidence relied on an unreliable jailhouse snitch, an unreliable prostitute who was given a deal to testify and law enforcement officers who gave misleading testimony about blood evidence. Of course the jury that convicted Taylor never heard about negative blood tests or heard from the woman who picked up Taylor and Beck that night after Taylor’s truck got stuck. Those were two key pieces of evidence that could have easily turned the case around and ended it with an acquittal.

Taylor’s case reveals many of the flaws in our adversarial criminal justice system where police are under pressure to close cases and prosecutors are under pressure to win cases. Taylor’s case shows the truth can get lost in that battle to win. Many viewers of “6,149 Days” have asked why the police or prosecutor weren’t held accountable for what happened. The answer appears to be because they were playing by the system’s rules. The system is to blame.

Our state has implemented reforms to help improve the system since Taylor’s conviction, including changes in the way line-ups are conducted to increase the reliability of identifications, the recording of interrogations to protect against false confessions and open-file discovery laws to help the defense prepare its case.

There have also been laws passed to enhance collection and preservation of biological evidence. The Forensic Science Act, a direct result of Taylor’s case, requires analyst certification. A Forensic Science Advisory Board and an ombudsman position have been created to require the kind of collaboration that can help prevent human error and bias.

There are other areas where reforms are still needed, including standards for the reliability of informant testimony, which was clearly an issue in Taylor’s case. It may be time to reconvene the Chief Justice's Criminal Justice Standards Commission to address these and other reforms.

Many viewers have also asked if the state compensated Taylor for his wrongful conviction. State law requires wrongfully convicted people to be compensated $50,000 for each year of their imprisonment for up to 15 years, so Taylor received the maximum $750,000. He would be the first to tell you that it doesn’t come remotely close to compensating him for losing 17 years of freedom.

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Documentary producer and writer Clay Johnson provides some behind-the-scenes insight into the production of WRAL documentaries.