The following editorial was published in the Fayette (NC) Observer on February 28, 2010.
When a three-judge panel in Raleigh reversed Greg Taylor's 1993 conviction for murdering a prostitute, it established two important conclusions:
The state's new Innocence Inquiry Commission, unique among the 50 states, is a success and an important new tool to ensure justice for all. It was Taylor's last chance, and his lawyers were able to prove to a panel of three Superior Court judges that he was innocent.
Perhaps more important than this one case is this:
The system of justice was more broken than we knew, and the commission may soon see a torrent of appeals from others in similar circumstances.
There's one particular circumstance that may be a big factor. Taylor's hearing revealed that in many cases, forensic evidence from the State Bureau of Investigation has been withheld from defense lawyers.
In Taylor's case, and apparently many others, lawyers never got the SBI's "bench notes." At Taylor's trial, those notes would have shown that initial lab reports, which showed blood inside his SUV following the slaying, were wrong. Follow-ups to the first test came up negative.
If that evidence had been presented in court, Taylor might never have had to waste more than 16 years of his life behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.
While SBI officials tried to defend the agency's former policies on evidence release, Director Robin Pendergraft said all evidence, including bench notes, is now provided to lawyers.
But what about cases investigated when the old policy was in effect? Are there other Greg Taylors unjustly serving time in our prison system? N.C. Center on Actual Innocence Executive Director Chris Mumma wants independent investigators to review every case that went through the SBI labs in that time period. If the SBI won't agree to that, we hope the center seeks a court order to make it happen.
We expect lawyers whose clients were convicted then also will be taking a second look at those cases. They should.
It is just as important that the cases of accused murderers who were convicted and executed during that time also be thoroughly probed. If innocent people were put to death, it would be the most tragic miscarriage of justice of all.
As Taylor said after his exoneration, "This is not about innocent people. This is about injustice."
It's clear from Taylor's case, and what was revealed during his hearing this month, that there has been injustice aplenty in North Carolina.