Inmate's claim clouds N.C. case

Serial confessor clouds N.C. case

Staff WriterOctober 14, 2009 

  • Craig Taylor has taken credit for more than 70 homicides. Among them:

    The 2000 killing of Usama Husein, a Wake County man. Craig Taylor was in prison at the time of Husein's death.

    The death of an Arlington, Va., woman who was featured on an episode of "Unsolved Murders." The killing has been linked to another man through DNA.

    65 slayings along the East Coast. No details were offered about those killings.

    A killing in Jacksonville, N.C., in 1991. Police can find no evidence.

    The killing of three men in Washington between 1986 and 1989. The FBI couldn't match his confessions to any deaths in that city.

    The death of a homeless man in Raleigh in 1991. Investigators can find no record of that killing.

Craig Taylor wrote the television show "Unsolved Mysteries" this year to say he is a Jamaican drug enforcer named "Ninja" responsible for 65 murders along the East Coast.

Taylor also said he killed a Wake County man in 2000, but he was in prison that year. And he swore he burned the body of another victim in Jacksonville; investigators never found a trace.

Craig Taylor's penchant for confessing to murder has prompted Colon Willoughby, the Wake County district attorney, to dismiss his latest: that he killed the woman that another man has spent 16 years in prison for murdering.

The N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission voted unanimously last month that Greg Taylor, who is not related to Craig Taylor, was innocent. Their vote was buoyed by Craig Taylor's account of killing Jacquetta Thomas, a prostitute he says he was obsessed with in 1991.

Willoughby said in court filings Tuesday that he's not willing to concede that Greg Taylor is innocent, in light of Craig Taylor's questionable credibility. Willoughby's motions detailed more than 70 homicides to which Craig Taylor has confessed, including killings committed while he was in prison. He has never been accused of any of them.

A three-judge panel of Superior Court judges must now review Greg Taylor's case. They have the power to exonerate and free him. The panel has not said when it will hear the case. Willoughby's court filing Tuesday indicates that he will argue against Greg Taylor's release.

"The evidence in this case fails to show by clear and convincing evidence that Greg Taylor is innocent of the murder of Jacquetta Thomas," Willoughby and assistant district attorney Tom Ford said in their motion.

The commission was established in 2006 to review claims of innocence; Taylor's is the third case they have reviewed. The commission is a state agency and can get access to confidential investigative files.

Commission staff did not know about dozens of Craig Taylor's confessions, even though they had court orders to obtain all of his prison records and all investigative files related to Thomas' murder.

Craig Taylor, 40 of Raleigh, suffers from mental illness and says he is dying from AIDS. In his letter mailed this summer to "Unsolved Mysteries," a syndicated program that investigates cold cases, he says he killed a woman in Northern Virginia in 1989. He writes: "Now ya'll need to act fast on this cause I'm dying and I want to get this case really off my chest."

He is serving a 10-year prison sentence as a habitual felon after racking up convictions for drug dealing and larceny since he was 16. He's due to be released in 2011.

The night of the crime

Craig Taylor was in Southeast Raleigh the night Thomas was murdered. He sold crack cocaine to Greg Taylor and another man hours before Thomas' death, according to court records. And he told an investigator that he had an abusive relationship with Thomas in the months leading to her death.

Commission investigators were skeptical of Craig Taylor's shifting statements about Thomas' murder. They hired a crime scene expert and a law professor specializing in false confessions to examine the credibility of his statements to commission investigator Sharon Stellato. Those experts determined that Craig Taylor's details about how he killed Thomas -- beating her with a bat, stabbing her with a pocket knife and posing the body to simulate a rape -- were plausible, even likely. Craig Taylor described details no one else besides police would know, and his eventual description of the manner of death matched the crime scene and Thomas' body.

Steven Drizin, a law professor at Northwestern Law School who specializes in false confessions, testified at the commission hearing that Craig Taylor's confession was reliable. On Tuesday, Drizin affirmed his opinion, though he said he wished he had known about the other confessions.

"The simple fact is [Craig Taylor] was able to provide details about this crime that were never released to the press," Drizin said. "An innocent person would be hard-pressed to know that kind of information."

A three-judge panel must make its own determination. Much will rest on what evidence links Greg Taylor to the crime.

On Greg Taylor's side

Craig Taylor's confession was not the only reason commissioners doubted Greg Taylor's guilt.

Greg Taylor swore from the start that he had nothing to do with Thomas' murder. A jury convicted him in 1993 based on the testimony of a prostitute and a jailhouse snitch. Both of those witnesses testified at the commission hearing last month and offered accounts different than ones they offered at the 1993 trial.

In 1993, prosecutors also told jurors that investigators had found blood on the fender of Greg Taylor's SUV, which was stuck in the mud at the same place where Thomas' body was discovered.

New forensic tests on that sample were questionable, according to evidence presented by the commission. Investigators couldn't say for sure whether the blood even belonged to a human. New DNA tests on and around Thomas' body didn't match Greg Taylor or provide the identity of any other possible suspect.

Christine Mumma, a lawyer who represented Greg Taylor as director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, says Craig Taylor's credibility doesn't change her faith in Greg Taylor's innocence.

"Every piece of evidence used to convict him has been discredited," Mumma said.

mandy.locke@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8927

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