North Carolina man who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit receives $4.625 million in settlement of civil rights complaint against former officials and employees of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (“SBI”). Greg Taylor was convicted in April 1993 of the September 26, 1991 murder of Jacquetta Thomas. Taylor’s vehicle had been found stuck in the mud in the vicinity of the victim’s body. Although the victim had been brutally beaten and had struggled with her attacker(s), neither Taylor nor the friend he was with that night had any blood or marks on their clothes or bodies. No physical evidence linked Taylor to the murder or the victim.
SBI agents Dwayne Deaver and Jed Taub analyzed a reddish brown spot on the fender liner of Taylor’s Nissan Pathfinder and conducted serological testing on a sample taken from the spot. The SBI agents used a presumptive test for the presence of blood, a phenolphthalein test. The test results indicated that the substance might be blood, though that particular test could not determine whether a substance tested was human blood or that of some other animal. The SBI agents prepared an official SBI Lab Report stating that examination of the substance “gave chemical indications for the presence of blood.” Taylor was charged with Thomas’ murder and was tried in Wake County Superior Court in April 1993. At trial, the prosecutor argued that the victim’s blood was on Taylor’s vehicle. That “blood evidence” was the only physical evidence purportedly linking Taylor to the crime for which he was tried. The jury found the “blood evidence” compelling and Taylor was convicted of the murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 2007, Taylor made a claim of factual innocence to the newly-created North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. During proceedings before that body, it was learned that the SBI agents who prepared the critical SBI Lab Report offered in evidence against Taylor at his criminal trial had performed additional serology tests on the spot seen on Taylor’s vehicle. These confirmatory tests for the presence of blood revealed that the substance might not be blood and was not of human origin. These test results were not included in the official lab report and were only reflected in laboratory “bench notes” that remained with the SBI at all times. Thus, the jury in Taylor’s criminal case never heard about the negative confirmatory tests which showed the substance on Taylor’s vehicles was not human blood. With the benefit of this evidence, a three-judge panel held an evidentiary hearing to consider Taylor’s claim of innocence in February 2010. The panel concluded unanimously that Taylor had proved by clear and convincing evidence that he was innocent of the crime for which he had been convicted. Thereafter, following additional DNA testing confirmed that there was absolutely no link between Taylor, his friend, and the victim or the murder, Taylor was granted a Pardon of Innocence by Governor Perdue.
Taylor filed suit in June 2011 against the five SBI officials and employees responsible for the misleading SBI Lab Report and the SBI crime lab’s Serology Section during the relevant time period. The Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss in October 2011 and in an Order filed September 28, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard rejected the Defendants’ arguments in their entirety. Taylor’s civil rights lawsuit was settled at mediation for the limits of the State’s insurance policy covering the SBI agents who were sued.
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