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Monday, March 29, 2010

Raleigh, North Carolina: Convicted Murderer Declared Innocent and Released After 17 Years

In April, 1993, Gregory Taylor was convicted of murdering Jacquetta Thomas near Raleigh, NC and was sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment. Upon appeal, Mr. Taylor's conviction was upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court and he remained in prison.

In July, 2007, the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence referred Mr. Taylor's case to the relatively new North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. A few months later, the Commission agreed to accept Mr. Taylor's case for formal review in order to determine whether Mr. Taylor could prove - by clear and convincing evidence - that he was in fact innocent of the murder.

In February, 2010, a three judge panel reviewed the evidence presented at Mr. Taylor's 1993 Wake County trial. The judges also listened to arguments made by Mr. Taylor's attorney, as well as by the attorney representing the State of North Carolina. Mr. Taylor could only be declared innocent and set free if all three judges, independently, ruled that he and his attorney had proved his innocence by clear and convincing evidence. It should be noted that proving one's innocence is quite different - and more difficult - than the challenge Mr. Taylor's lawyers faced at his original trial.

On February 17, 2010, all three judges declared that Mr. Taylor had proved his innocence. He was thus freed after 6,149 days of imprisonment.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission was brought into existence by a 2006 North Carolina law which is perhaps unique in all the United States. According to the Commission's website, less than 2% of all claims referred to it are accepted for formal review. The "clear and convincing" standard requires more certainty of proof than the "preponderance of the evidence" standard (which is typically the lowest standard of proof in the American system of justice) but much less than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof (the highest standard of proof in the American system of justice, and typically only used in deciding whether to convict a defendant of a crime).

In this stunning development, it appears that Mr. Taylor became the first man formally declared "innocent" by a judicial body in modern-day America.