After he spent 40 years behind bars, today is Louis Taylor’s first full day of freedom. Although he was convicted of starting a fire in Tucson, Ariz., that killed 28 people, he had always maintained his innocence.
Since then, advances in forensics have suggested that the fatal fire might not even have been caused by arson. There’s a catch to his freedom, though, CBS News reports: In exchange for his release, prosecutors insisted that he plead “no contest” to 28 counts of murder.
The fire at the Pioneer Hotel in was declared an arson even before it was put out. And police, who first thought the 16-year-old Taylor a hero for banging on doors that night, quickly settled on him as their prime suspect.
A decade ago, “60 Minutes” examined the case, raising issues about how the investigation was conducted and questioning Taylor’s guilt. A report on last Sunday’s broadcast looked at whether racism may have played a part in his conviction and revealed that experts, employing modern forensics, concluded the fatal fire may not even have been caused by arson …
And prosecutors insist Tuesday’s release was not a victory for Taylor. “This is not an exoneraton,” [prosecuting attorney Barbara] LaWall said. “Louis Taylor was found guilty by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.”
But Taylor sees it differently. He said, “It’s a tale of two tragedies, you know the Pioneer Hotel fire, and me, getting convicted for it.”
[“60 Minutes” correspondent Steve] Kroft remarked, “I think when we were out there doing this latest story, that was his plan — he was not going to accept a plea. And I think the closer it got to it — it was his first opportunity to get out without admitting guilt. This is somebody who had been invited to present before the clemency board and testified ‘I’m not going to express remorse for a crime I didn’t commit. Through nine hours of interrogation and 40 years in jail, he’s always denied that he did this, and I think — I don’t think he had much faith in the Arizona justice system going forward.”
Read more at CBS News.