Local News

Friend testifies that Taylor is innocent of murder

Posted February 11, 2010 9:47 a.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2010 10:37 p.m. EST

— The man arrested along with Gregory Taylor nearly 20 years ago testified during a special hearing Thursday that neither of them knew or had ever seen the 26-year-old prostitute that Taylor was convicted of killing.

"I know this man is innocent today," Johnny Beck said. "To this day, I don't understand how this man got convicted. It's mind-boggling. It's scary. It really is."

Raleigh police arrested and charged Beck and Taylor with murder in Jacquetta Thomas' death less than 12 hours after an officer found her body in a cul de sac on South Blount Street on Sept. 26, 1991.

Charges against Beck were later dismissed, and in April 1993, Taylor was convicted of first-degree murder.

Taylor, now 47 and serving a life sentence in prison, is getting a second chance at freedom.

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 that a review of Taylor's case was warranted.

It's up to a panel of three Superior Court judges to decide if Taylor should go free. The hearing will enter into its fourth day on Friday.

Taking the stand for the first time in the case, Beck testified Thursday afternoon that he and Taylor had been in the area smoking crack cocaine when Taylor got his truck stuck in some mud.

When they couldn't get it out, they walked away from the area and happened to see Thomas's body, which Beck said he thought was a mannequin or rolled up carpet.

They thought about calling the police, but were paranoid because of the drug use, he said.

"I'd seen so many times when you call the police (that) you're implicated," Beck said. "Plus, I'm high. I have paraphernalia on me."

The two eventually caught a ride with Barbara Ray, a prostitute at the time who took them to a house on East Street, where the three of them spent several hours smoking crack, she testified Thursday.

Like Beck, Ray never testified at Taylor's 1993 trial.

Prosecutors have contended that Beck and Taylor picked up Thomas that night and then killed her when she refused to perform a sex act.

Experts testified Wednesday that it would have been impossible for Taylor to kill Thomas and not have blood on his vehicle or clothing.

Ray supported that testimony Thursday, saying she didn't see any blood on either man.

"I don't care how high I would have been, they would have never have gotten into my car (if there had been blood)," she said. "They were just calm and acting normal."

Earlier Thursday, Taylor's attorneys called a blood stain expert and master canine trainer to the stand.

Megan Clement, a forensics director for LabCorp, testified that human blood was not found on Taylor's truck – despite trial claims that there was – and that the original analyst on the case omitted the results from a lab report.

"If you're not reporting all of your tests, you're not reporting unbiased. You're selectively reporting what you want people to see," Clement said. "The fact that there were confirmatory tests that revealed negative results, the fact, in my opinion, is that it should have reported in this particular report."

Clement also testified that she found no DNA link between Taylor and Thomas

Jonni Joyce, a master trainer of police search-and-rescue dogs, testified that there were errors in how police used a K-9 to detect Thomas' scent in Taylor's truck, which was found about 100 yards away from Thomas' body.

The dog, Sadie, jumped on Taylor's truck windows, leading investigators to believe Thomas had been inside the truck.

Joyce said Sadie had been trained for trailing people but not specifically trained to identify scents. The dog also never matched Thomas' scent in Taylor's truck, she said.

"The dog should have sat at the vehicle (or if it weren't trained to respond in that manner), should have been demanding and not want to leave the vehicle," she said.

Instead, Sadie returned to her handler, an indication she could not match the odor, Joyce said.

Blood evidence was also the focus of much testimony on Wednesday.

Tom Bevel, a blood spatter expert, said evidence was incomplete. A first set of tests on Taylor's SUV tested positive for blood, but second tests used to confirm initial results were negative and not made public, he said.

Gregg McCrary, a crime scene analyst and former FBI agent, also testified that based on the information he has seen, investigators exhibited "tunnel vision and a rush to judgment" in the case.

"That was the thrust of the investigation," he said, suggesting investigators might have looked at evidence to support their theory and ruling out any other.