Recap of The System Is F'd Up - Part One
Written by Brandi Abbott
The episode starts off with how Priya, Jess, and Keith became F’d up. We get a nice taste of Priya, Jess, and Keith’s chemistry together as well as a bit of backstory. They all worked together in Reality TV production, and clicked instantly. Priya and Jess knew they wanted to keep working together and more than that, they wanted to make their own shows and maybe change the world a little bit.
The idea for the podcast came to Priya when she was watching "The Staircase," a true crime documentary series about the trial of Michael Peterson. Particularly, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) Crime Lab bloodstain pattern analyst, Duane Deaver piqued her interested as he seemed more interested in theatrics than forensic science. If you watched “The Staircase”, you know it eventually turns out that Deaver is full of shit, and Priya wanted to know how often something like this happens. She began researching the SBI Crime Lab, and it quickly became obvious that Duane Deaver was just the tip of the corruption iceberg - that there was a much larger issue with the entire system. “The Staircase” sort of touched on this when they quickly covered another man affected by Duane Deaver’s shoddy forensic science. The more Priya researched, the more she realized how much bigger the story was and how many people’s lives could have been (and were) affected.
Priya went to Jess and told her she had found their show. Jess was completely shocked at the extent of the corruption and they immediately tried pitching it as a television docuseries, but they realized that because of everything they wanted to do (expose corruption, and highlight issues with the SBI Crime Lab to hopefully enact change), F’d Up might be better suited as a podcast.
Plus, in doing a podcast they realized they could invite their friend Keith over and tell him everything they learned. In this way, Keith will be hearing everything for the first time on the podcast and will be learning and gasping along with listeners.
Another man “The Staircase” quickly covered was Greg Taylor, a regular guy from the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Priya tells us that Greg liked to “party” by which she meant, he used to partake in drugs. One night in September of 1991, Greg left a friend's house to procure drugs - on his way, he ran into an acquaintance named Johnny Beck who wanted to get high as well. At some point that night, they ended up parked in an industrial complex near a cul-de-sac. While Johnny was getting high, Greg became worried a cop may see them so he drove off-road and the truck accidentally ended up stuck in the mud. Greg and Johnny were forced to abandon the truck and decided to walk back - that’s when they saw something weird in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Greg thought it might be a mannequin, but Johnny thought it might be a body. Johnny was right as it turned out to be the body of a young woman named Jacquetta Thomas. Greg, a white guy, wanted to call the cops, whereas Johnny Beck, being a black man with a lifetime of racial profiling just wanted to get out of there. They ended up catching a ride from a woman, who happened to be driving by, and continued partying with her until early morning. Greg needed to get home and get cleaned up before going to work, so he called his wife to come pick him up.
Greg and his wife planned to get his truck back from where it was stuck, but when they arrive at the cul-de-sac, they found that the area was swarming with police - it appeared to be a crime scene at that point. They decided to just get Greg to work and go back for the truck later. At work, Greg mentioned this to his boss and his boss wanted to check it out. Greg’s boss, Greg, and his wife headed over to the crime scene. At the crime scene, Greg approached the cops and told them he needed to get his truck. A detective told Greg to meet him at the station so they could talk, but didn’t let Greg take the truck. Later at the station, Detective Johnny Howard was questioning Greg and the questions seemed a bit more serious than the standard “what did you see?” type questions one would reasonably expect if caught in this situation. However, Priya tells us that because Greg was innocent and his entire knowledge of police was from cop TV shows, he was happy to help and it never occurred to him that he could be a suspect. He trusted the system and believed it was in place to help the good guys like him. She goes on to tell us that the police asked Greg if Johnny was black or white. Jess tells us the detective was creating the narrative he wanted and that Greg was getting really confused - as anyone would be. Keith asks why Greg hadn’t asked for a lawyer and Jess and Priya explain that he attempted to contact an attorney, but that when Greg couldn’t get in contact with him, he didn’t try anything else because he was still so confident in the police and his innocence. Jess says that Greg did notice a “shift” in the detectives eyes when he answered the detective that Johnny Beck was black. Greg said he could start to see where everything was going but still was sure he that just needed to cooperate to clear everything up. He agreed to take a polygraph test (this was never done) and gave them the keys to his truck and full permission to check it out.
Jess tells us that the Raleigh police decided that what must have happened was Jacquetta Thomas’ murder was a “drugs for sex” deal gone wrong which the news outlets quickly picked up on - this story was completely untrue, however. Priya tells us that they spoke to Chris Mumma (who ultimately ended up representing Greg) and she said that the crime scene was extremely bloody and violent which is much more in line with a crime of passion - not a drug deal gone wrong.
In a ridiculous turn of events, despite there being zero evidence, Greg was arrested for first degree murder. While in jail Greg hired an internationally well-known lawyer named Jim Blackburn. Priya mentions that some of us listeners may remember him from the book “Fatal Vision” and says those that do, wouldn’t be wrong to think hiring Blackburn, a defense lawyer with a very public defeat on record, wasn’t the best idea. In 1993, while Greg was out on bond, he was informed that his lawyer had been embezzling money and surrendered his law license. Greg had to find a new lawyer stat, and this new attorney, Mike Dodd, realized very quickly that the case against Greg was weak - Dodd decided that the best defense was no defense. Keith vocalized what everyone listening is probably thinking “that seems like a mistake”. Keith wanted to know why Greg went along with it and Priya says that if it were her she would probably be skeptical but put her trust in Dodd since one would think he knew what he was doing. Evidently not.
In April of 1993, Greg’s trial began and Dodd stuck to his “do nothing” plan. During the trial, the prosecution’s entire case hinged on a forensic test done on a spot - a substance found on Greg's truck. The SBI Crime Lab determined the spot to be blood. Priya spoke with Marilyn T. Miller, an associate professor of forensic science at Virginia Commonwealth University to help with understanding the forensic science that comes into play throughout this season of F’d Up and, in this episode specifically, understanding luminol and the other chemicals discused. Priya says Marilyn explained that luminol is used to identify bloodstain patterns or any bodily fluids. She starts to use a hotel room as an example, because where better to find random fluids, but Keith is staying in one soon and doesn’t want to know anything about it. Priya goes on to say that to use luminol one would need to spray the luminol, use a black light to see the bloodstain patterns, and photograph them in about 8 seconds before they disappear. Jess jokes that you would need a pit crew and Priya decides that Luminol Pit Crew is going to be the name of her future death metal band. She tells us that SBI analysts used luminol initially to identify the spot on Greg’s truck. They then used phenolphthalein - the way phenolphthalein works, is one would be able to take a very small sample, add it to the mixture - and if it turns pink: it’s potentially blood. Jess tells us that this test determined that there was a tiny spot of blood under the fender wall of the truck. She also says they brought in a bloodhound named Sadie to the crime scene. Priya says that Sadie sniffed around the truck and determined that there was blood on, around, or in the truck. Priya reads directly from her notes to us “I’m sure Sadie is the best doggo, but that bitch was wrong”. Keith remarks that the Sadie part seems like a ridiculous subplot in a cozy British mystery to which Priya tells him that that isn’t the ridiculous subplot. The actual ridiculous subplot is that neither the prosecution or the defense brought in Barbara, the woman Greg Taylor and Johnny Beck got a ride from the night the truck got stuck and they saw Jacquetta’s body. The prosecution claimed they couldn’t find her and I guess even trying would be against the defense’s entire plan to do nothing.
Priya and Jess now tell us about a jailhouse informant named Ernest Andrews who claimed and then testified that Greg confessed the murder to him. Priya says she’s unclear if he Greg even knew Ernest Andrews. Jess mentions that Ernest used this false information to try and get time off his sentence. Still the defense lawyer, Dodd, did absolutely nothing. Priya, Jess, and Keith speculate what Dodd could have been doing instead of his job, such as maybe tending a garden...
On April 15th 1993, the state rested with their entire case built on Ernest’s testimony, the presumptive blood tests, and Sadie, the adorable bloodhound. Dodd presented no case. The next day, Friday the 16th, Dodd finally spoke and motioned for dismissal because of a lack of evidence. As Priya tells us, he wasn’t wrong. Greg’s wife called Dodd to discuss the case and completely in character for him, he told her he was tired of talking about the case (all of that nothing he did must have been exhausting) and he wanted to forget about the case for the weekend. Keith hopes Dodd ended up with a terrible garden. The following Monday in court, the prosecutor and defense made their closing arguments. The prosecutor, Tom Ford, mentioned the blood evidence seventeen times in his closing argument, hanging the entire case on it. According to Priya, Dodd did present an argument but there’s no record of it in the transcripts. This seems highly suspicious, but Priya tells us that this doesn’t come up later in the series, it’s just missing and they don’t know what was said.
A dog, a spot that may have been blood, and an unreliable witness seem like a very small amount of nothing to sentence a man to life in prison over, but after a very short deliberation by the jury, that’s exactly what happened. Greg Taylor and his lawyer planned to appeal and were optimistic about it. He thought he’d just have to spend 12 months in jail, then they’d appeal, and in his eyes, of course he’d get out because he’s innocent. Priya tells us that Greg is one of the most optimistic people on earth and that every time they’ve spoken, his optimism just shines through. Jess mentions that meanwhile, Johnny Beck spent two years and prison and then was released because there was no evidence at all against him at all. She tells us that Greg was approached numerous times and was asked to confess that Johnny Beck was the murderer. He was given multiple offers to get out of prison in exchange for his testimony, but Greg never agreed because Johnny didn’t commit the murder and neither did he!
In 1998, Greg appealed to have the charges dropped and cited ineffective council as the reason. His motion to appeal is denied. In 2000, his habeas corpus is also denied. In 2003, North Carolina Supreme Court refused to hear Greg’s request for DNA testing. Priya tells us at the point that Greg’s request for DNA sampling was denied, it had been 3,644 days since he’d been in prison, many attempted appeals, and his family and friends had done anything they could with every resource they could use.
Greg was aware of the fact that life was passing while he was in prison. When he went in, his daughter was 9. He missed his daughter growing up, her graduation, her wedding, over half of her life. His daughter told him she wouldn’t allow anyone to walk her down the aisle, because her father couldn’t do it. Greg also completely refused to meet her significant other, the entire time he was in prison because he didn’t want him to see him behind bars. Keith says that the truly fucked up part of this is how completely Greg’s life was destroyed as well as how everyone around him’s life was destroyed for something he didn’t do. Through all of this however, Jess says that Greg was still holding on to hope and that even when he speaks about it now, he’s calm.
Priya tells us that one day in 2003, about ten years after Greg went to prison, his father, Ed, came to see him and told him they were completely out of resources and options. Keith echoes everyone’s thoughts when he says “that’s fucked up” and Priya says only that there’s so much more fucked up shit to come next week when Greg’s story continues - but also throughout the entire F'd Up season.