After a wrongful murder conviction, Greg Taylor won his freedom seven years ago, but his case has new relevance in light of Arkansas’ macabre plan to execute eight men between April 17 and April 27. Taylor, of Wake County, was sentenced to life in prison, not death, but the mistakes and deceptions that led to his conviction show how fragile and flawed the judicial system can be.
Those weaknesses become horrific when they produce a wrongful conviction that leads to the execution of an innocent person. And that may be the case in the one execution Arkansas did complete late last week after legal maneuvers halted the others. Ledell Lee, 51, was put to death by lethal injection for the 1990 beating and strangling death of 26-year-old Debra Reese. Lee, who always maintained he was innocent, was executed even as his lawyers sought more DNA testing that might have raised new questions about his conviction.
Greg Taylor might have lived out his days in prison had it not been for the persistence of a dogged lawyer who won further evidence testing in his case. Taylor was convicted in 1993 of the murder of a woman whose body was found about 100 yards from where Taylor’s SUV got stuck on the edge of downtown Raleigh. Prosecutors cited evidence tested by the State Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab to claim that the victim’s blood was found inside the wheel well of Taylor’s vehicle.
The state’s North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, headed by attorney Chris Mumma, decided to take up Taylor’s case, and a review revealed lab notes from the time of his trial that showed the substance on the vehicle not to be human blood. The post-conviction review also found that key evidence was withheld from the defense. After nearly 17 years in prison, Taylor became the first North Carolina inmate to be declared innocent by the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, an 11-year-old state agency created to investigate and consider post-conviction claims of innocence.
Taylor’s case is the subject of the second event in The News & Observer’s new Community Voices series, a monthly program that will explore issues of public interest and concern. The event will feature a screening of a new film on Taylor’s case from filmmaker Gregg Jamback of Winston-Salem. The 90-minute film is titled: “In pursuit of justice: How criminal justice reform in N.C. freed Greg Taylor.” After the screening, Taylor and Mumma will discuss the case with N&O reporter Mandy Locke, who reported on the hearings that led to Taylor’s release. A question-and-answer session will follow.
The event is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the James B. Hunt library on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus. It is free and open to the public, but those planning to attend are encouraged to register at nando.com/communityvoices.
The Community Voices series kicked off on March 29 with a panel discussion assessing whether the Jan. 21 Women’s March will have a long-term effect. The march drew an estimated half-million participants to the main event in Washington, D.C., and related marches around the nation and the world drew big crowds, including an estimated 17,000 people in Raleigh.
The discussion included a panel featuring four organizers of Raleigh Women’s March.The panelists – Carly Jones, Ashley Popio, La-Mine Perkins and Shana Becker – said they were surprised by the size of the turnout in Raleigh and Washington and they agreed that the Women’s March represented more than a one-day response to President Trump’s inauguration. They said it is reflective of a new solidarity among women determined to push for progress on equal pay, family leave and affordable health and child care, among other issues.
“We made a big noise with the march,” said Popio, a founder of the Women’s Theatre Festival and a Shaw University writing teacher. “We’re making a big difference with our work.”
The success of the Women’s March will also be its challenge. The event brought many women together, but it also united a wide range of political, social and religious views and causes. Keeping such a broad coalition focused on common goals will determine whether the Women’s March fades into history or shapes the politics and polices of tomorrow.
The third event in Community Voices on May 24 will examine how differences in values and politics are pushing Americans apart. It will also explore how individuals, families and communities can learn to listen better to each other and discuss their differing views without rancor. You are encouraged to register for the free discussion at nando.com/ communityvoices.
Barnett: 919-8294512, nbarnett@ newsobserver.com