August 4, 2022

The Arizona Justice Project has represented Louis Taylor for over 20 years. We believe Louis Taylor was wrongfully prosecuted and convicted in 1972. The Pima County Attorney’s Office (PCAO) was on the verge of concluding the same. Two months ago, just as the Justice Project was gathering and identifying new evidence, the PCAO advised that,having conducted a contemporaneous review, it would move to vacate Taylor’s convictions. It had even prepared a press release to that effect. For reasons never fully explained, however, that motion was not filed.

The purpose of a Conviction Integrity Unit is to ensure convictions have integrity. When a conviction lacks integrity, it should not stand. The Pima County Attorney has foregone a critical opportunity to correct one of the most severe injustices Pima County has ever seen.

Taylor, age 16, was present at the Pioneer Hotel the night the fire broke out and put to work by police officers knocking on hotel doors and helping evacuate guests while the hotel was burning. In the early morning hours, Taylor was brought to the police station, interrogated, arrested and charged before the origin or cause of the fire could be determined.

Since Taylor’s 1972 conviction, critical witnesses have recanted and numerous instances of intentional prosecutorial misconduct have surfaced – including hiding exculpatory evidence from the defense, extracting false testimony from juveniles threatened with incarceration, and secretly speaking with a dismissed juror mid-trial to get a handle on the jury’s leanings. The case was suffused from the outset with intent to blame the “Negro” or “Colored boy." Indeed, the prosecution's chief fire expert revealed in deposition testimony in 2012 that, even before completing his investigation, he determined that the fire was arson, had been set by a Black boy because Black boys use fire as a tool.

Advancements in fire science investigation have shown that the 1970’s conclusions of arson were based not only on racist assumptions but on misinterpretations and incorrect beliefs of fire indicator evidence. In 2013, the PCAO conceded advancements in fire investigation techniques constituted newly discovered evidence. The PCAO then, however, conditioned Taylor's freedom on his entering a no contest plea. Without such a plea, the PCAO would subject him to an indefinite period of further litigation with commensurate further incarceration. Taylor agreed to plead no contest in order to end 42 years of life lost in prison. He achieved his freedom, but justice was not done.

That should not be the end of one of the ugliest chapters in Pima County history. Nor will it be. The Pima County Attorney's Office may have ended its review for the moment, but the Arizona Justice Project has not ended its representation of Mr. Taylor.