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February 17, 2010

First exoneration in North Carolina thanks to state's innocence commission

A helpful reader sent me this breaking local news piece from North Carolina which is headlined "Innocence panel sets Greg Taylor free." Here are the basic details:

Three judges voted today to give Greg Taylor his life back. The judges voted unanimously to undo Taylor's 1993 conviction of murdering Jacquetta Thomas, a prostitute in Southeast Raleigh. Their decision exonerates Taylor and releases him from a term of life in prison.

After the decision was read, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby walked over to Taylor, shook his hand and apologized that he had been convicted. Taylor was then taken into a private room, where his leg shackles were removed, before he returned to reunite with his family. He met his son-in-law, Charles Puryear, for the first time and hugged Yolanda Littlejohn, sister of the woman he had been accused of murdering.

Taylor and his lawyers met with the media in the lobby of the Campbell University Law School in downtown Raleigh where the historical event occurred.  "We have been blessed in the state of North Carolina to make more progress as it relates to the system of justice. This is one those fantastic days. We all should look at this as a positive thing," said Joseph B. Chesire V, one of Taylor's attorneys.

After Chesire spoke, Taylor stepped up to the microphone and struggled for just the right words. Then he went into a litany of thanks. He then addressed a justice system that not only wrongly convicted him, but also freed him. "This is not about innocent people. This is about injustice," he said.

Taylor, 47, is the first person in North Carolina to be exonerated using a new process established to handle convicted people's claims of innocence. Last September, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission voted unanimously that Taylor's case warranted further review.

Three judges -- Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, District Judge Tanya Wallace of Rockingham and Mecklenberg County Superior Court Judge Calvin Murphy -- were appointed to consider Taylor's case this month.

Though this is not, obviously, a pure sentencing story, I find it interesting and important as an example of innovative ways to deal with innocence concerns.  Especially if/when abolitionists in a particular state contend that the death penalty should be eliminated because of innocence worries, I am now likely to respond that a better first response would be the creation of an Innocence Inquiry Commission.  Similarly, I think the frequent calls to reduce or restrict avenues for collateral attacks on convictions would be more compelling only if and when more jurisdictions create special bodies to deal with factually wrongful convictions (as opposed to legally wrongful convictions, which current forms of habeas can usually handle).

February 17, 2010 at 05:08 PM | Permalink


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"Factually wrongful convictions" as opposed to "legallly wrongful convictions".

Some of us believe that a legally wrongfull conviction can be just as unjust as a factually wrongful conviction. As in: "and the all white jury agreed".

I guess we can snuggle up to right wingers and only oppose aspects of justice which affect the totally innocent. Our role as stewards of the Constitution demands concern and stamina. Every lawyer is a steward. Sorry but your position fails us here.

I live in North Carolina and applaud some of the efforts here. If someone had a raw deal in a trial, and they were factually guilty of some offense, I still want them to receive justice. Justice is a fair trial not a long sentence. If we lawyers cannot stick up for the fair trial then we are not standing on two lawyer feet. Maybe law professors stand in a different way than practicing lawyers who appreciate their duty.

Posted by: mpb | Feb 18, 2010 10:47:36 PM

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