Louis Taylor

Longtime Arizona Justice Project client, Louis Taylor, was freed April 2, 2013 after spending 42 years in prison.

Louis Taylor has always maintained his innocence of the 1970 Pioneer Hotel fire that took 29 lives. Attorneys from the Arizona Justice Project spent years re-investigating this case, discovering evidence that was never disclosed to Taylor’s attorney and confirming the snitch testimony leading to Taylor’s conviction was false. A national Arson Review Committee, led by John Lentini, reviewed the evidence and 1972 expert conclusions used to convict Taylor and, after applying today’s standards of fire investigation, concluded there was no evidence to support the cause fire was arson. The Tucson Fire Department conducted its own review and concluded the cause of the fire was “undetermined.” In addition, the defense expert in Louis trial — long-troubled by Louis’ conviction — spent more than a decade reinvestigating the fire, and now believes that under today’s knowledge and investigative standards the cause of the Pioneer Hotel fire cannot be determined.

Based largely on these findings, the Arizona Justice Project team sought relief for Louis Taylor.

Granted release

On April 2, 2013, Taylor was granted his freedom after the Pima County Attorney’s Office offered him a deal to plead no contest in exchange for his immediate release from prison.

“For Louis, freedom has been a long time coming, for too long,” said Larry Hammond, founder of the Arizona Justice Project and attorney for Louis Taylor. “Louis has spent his entire adult life in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit. The fire at the Pioneer Hotel was a tragedy — and our hearts, and Louis’, go out to the victims and their families — but no credible expert today could conclude that the fire was arson, let alone that Louis was the arsonist.”

The Team Who Made This Possible

The Arizona Justice Project is extremely thankful to the dedicated volunteer attorneys Ed Novak, Noel Fidel, Mike Piccarreta, Stanley Feldman, Jefferson Keenan, and Arizona Justice Project faculty advisors Andy Silverman and Bob Bartels. A big thank you to our investigators, Ian Burnett and Randy Downer, from Inter-State investigations. We also thank the many volunteer law students who worked on Louis’ case over the years, predominantly from the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona.

Larry Bishop

Standing up for Injustice. Aiding the Wrongfully Convicted. Given relief after serving 10+ years.

Larry Bishop – Wrongly Convicted

In 1998, Larry was convicted of first degree murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, aggravated robbery, burglary, and theft. His case was settled on appeal after evidence revealed that he was wrongfully convicted.

The Day That Changed His Life

On Valentine’s Day, 1997, two masked men crashed through the window of a Safeway in Coolidge, Arizona. During the ensuing robbery, money was taken from the store safe and one of the armed assailants shot and killed a store manager. The lone eyewitness could only vaguely identify the suspect as being 6’4”, 240 pounds. Hours after the crime, a local man, known by many to be seriously mentally ill, confessed to the crime and identified Mr. Bishop as his cohort. As a result of these statements, Mr. Bishop was arrested the day after the crime, and the police investigation seemed to come to a halt. The state, although unable to provide physical evidence connecting Mr. Bishop to the crime, sought the death penalty against both men, and because the case included the possibility of a death sentence, Mr. Bishop was appointed two attorneys to represent him. The first jury acquitted his co-defendant, the seriously mentally ill man who had confessed and implicated Mr. Bishop. However, it was unable to reach a verdict as to Mr. Bishop.

The Court Process

Perhaps realizing the weakness of their case, the State decided not to seek the death penalty at the retrial of Mr. Bishop. This meant that Mr. Bishop was now only entitled to one lawyer for his defense. Devastatingly for Mr. Bishop, the more experienced attorney at his first trial withdrew from the case, which left the less experienced attorney working under immense time pressure, with limited resources, new facts and minimal trial experience. During the second trial, more than a year after the crime, a new witness came forward and testified that she overhead Mr. Bishop, along with several other men, at her trailer on the night of the crime and that her boyfriend retrieved guns for one of the other men. The next morning, one of these men (not Mr. Bishop), picked up the suspected proceeds of the robbery from this trailer.

Ineffective Evidence

Although the State’s case against Mr. Bishop had drastically changed because of this new evidence, and indicated an alternate suspect, defense counsel was only given an investigator to assist him on the first day of the second trial. Not surprisingly, the defense was unable to uncover additional helpful evidence for Mr. Bishop in this short period of time. Despite his unwavering assertion of innocence, Mr. Bishops was convicted on all charges.

Ten years after the verdict, at a federal hearing on Mr. Bishop’s claim that his counsel was ineffective, evidence came to light that should have resulted in Mr. Bishop’s acquittal. For instance, a police report, dated the day after the crime, identified both another man as the shooter, and the make of the gun used in the crime, information that was not public knowledge at the time of the report. In addition, the man at the trailer with Mr. Bishop, who picked up the proceeds, matched the physical description given by eyewitnesses as opposed to Mr. Bishop, who is nearly ten inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter than the description. The attorney also failed to present numerous facts in police reports that could have been brought to the jury’s attention, utilize experts and request additional DNA analysis. Instead, because of these deficiencies, the jury was left with only a partial picture of the crime.

However, as a result of the Arizona Justice Project’s efforts, the Pinal County Attorney’s office agreed to settle the case on appeal. Due to the long appeal process on his federal claim, which could have lasted for years, Mr. Bishop decided to plead guilty to the lesser charge of armed robbery, with credit for time served.