RALEIGH — The former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court is urging Wake County's top prosecutor to prevent Greg Taylor from spending another day in prison for murder.
I. Beverly Lake says District Attorney Colon Willoughby should use his power to free Taylor. Last month, the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission unanimously found that Taylor didn't commit the murder he has spent 16 years in prison paying for.
A three-judge panel next will consider Taylor's case. Lake said Monday that Willoughby should act at once.
"The District Attorney always has the authority, in light of new evidence, to move to vacate a conviction or join with the defense in a motion to vacate a conviction," Lake wrote in a letter to The News & Observer. "There is a difference between being unwilling to exercise that authority and being unable to exercise that authority -- an important distinction."
Taylor was sent to prison for the killing of Jacquetta Thomas of Raleigh in 1991; another man has since confessed to the crime.
"That is a travesty that must be corrected as quickly as possible in the interest of justice for the individual, the family, the victim and the State," Lake wrote.
Lake helped establish the Innocence Inquiry Commission in 2006. The group, comprising lawyers, judges, police and a victim advocate, investigates claims of innocence that often can't be addressed by the courts.
The commission voted last month to send Taylor's case to a three-judge panel for review. The panel has the power to exonerate Greg Taylor and order his release. A hearing in front of that group of Superior Court judges has not yet been scheduled.
The Innocence Inquiry Commission's vote was fueled in part by the confession of Craig Taylor, a former Raleigh drug dealer who said he was obsessed with Thomas. He is not related to Greg Taylor.
Willoughby isn't convinced that North Carolina prisoner confessing to an old murder should be believed.
Craig Taylor "has been described to us as a drug lunatic who would say anything," Willoughby said last month after learning of the commission's vote. Efforts to reach Willoughby on Monday were unsuccessful.
Willoughby could ask a Superior Court judge to set Greg Taylor free. He has repeatedly told reporters, however, that he is powerless to overturn a jury's verdict. He has said that the three-judge panel must determine Greg Taylor's fate.
A commission investigator interviewed Craig Taylor this year after coming across his name in Raleigh police files after Thomas' death in 1991.
Sharon Stellato, the investigator, began to press Craig Taylor after his statements about Thomas and the night of her murder shifted. He eventually confessed to killing Thomas, describing how he beat her with a bat before stripping her naked to make it appear as if she had been raped. The commission heard testimony from crime-scene investigators and legal experts who said Craig Taylor's confession was valid.
Craig Taylor has been trying to confess since 1996. According to prison medical records, Taylor told a psychologist in 1996 that he needed to confess to two murders. The therapist noted then that Craig Taylor "is matter of fact about his intent and there is no psychosis present." There is no indication that anyone talked further with Craig Taylor about those crimes.
Willoughby had expressed concerns about Taylor's mental health. He also is suspicious about the other murder Craig Taylor has attempted to take credit for; police have not yet been able to verify another homicide.
In the meantime, Willoughby has assigned his assistant prosecutor, Tom Ford, the same man who tried Greg Taylor for murder in 1993, to review the innocence claim.
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