A special three-judge panel found Greg Taylor innocent of the murder of Jacquetta Thomas, whose beaten body was found at the end of a Raleigh cul-de-sac in 1991. Taylor was arrested when he went to retrieve his Nissan Pathfinder from some nearby woods, where it was stuck.
He served more than 16 years in prison before the panel vacated his sentence.
A spokeswoman for Perdue said Friday that the governor was waiting for the results of tests on the clothing worn by Taylor the night that Thomas was killed. Taylor agreed in March to let Raleigh police test that clothing, saying he wanted no doubt about his innocence.
DNA results released Friday showed Taylor was innocent, Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said. Pearson said the governor waited until the DNA results were returned because she did not want any doubt cast when she granted the pardon.
“Gregory Taylor was forced to pay a debt to society for a crime he did not commit. No amount of money can buy back those 17 years, but at least this pardon of innocence will clear his name and make him eligible to receive compensation for his unjust imprisonment,” Perdue said in a statement.
Taylor said he was on his way back from a speaking engagement in Charlotte when he got a call the news from the governor's office. He said he was elated by the news.
"It was a little bit of an emotional moment for me really," Taylor told WRAL News. "I didn't realize, I don't think, even how much this meant to me until she actually granted it."
"I would like to savor the moment for a little while," he said.
After three months of waiting to see if the governor would pardon him, Taylor admitted he was "beginning to worry a bit."
"I'm totally cleared to move on with the rest of my life and it feels good in the moment," he said.
Because of the pardon, Taylor is eligible for $750,000 in compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.
The Raleigh Police Department issued a statement on Friday saying the DNA tests did not provide any new evidence in the case.
"The department continues its investigation, which is progressing. Currently, two detectives are assigned to the Thomas case on a full-time basis," spokesman Jim Sughrue said.
The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence reluctantly granted permission in March to test the Taylor's clothing Taylor.
Before 47-year-old Taylor was released from a life sentence, he said he repeatedly asked for the same kind of testing from prison to prove his innocence. His request was denied, however.
Taylor was the first exoneration resulting from the involvement of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, the only state-run agency in the country dedicated to investigating claims of innocence.
Taylor was already celebrating something special on Friday. It was his daughter's birthday.
"The last time I was free on my daughter's birthday, she turned 9 years old," he said.