The System is F'd Up Part 2 - Recap
Written by Brandi Abbott
This week on F’d Up, the story of how Greg Taylor was wrongfully convicted continues. Priya begins by telling us that in the late 1990s North Carolina had two student ran “Innocence Projects,” these were the University of North Carolina Innocence Project and the Duke Innocence Project. The projects were receiving a lot of the same letters so some people had the idea to start The Center on Actual Innocence to coordinate the work done by each innocence project. In 2000, it was incorporated as “The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence or the NCCAI. Keith asked if they only deal with death penalty cases to which Priya and Jess say no.
Jess begins telling us about Chris Mumma. When Chris was younger she was a juror on a death penalty case and had never really given much thought to the death penalty before then. After she had her three kids, she decided to go to law school to study corporate law. However, a death penalty case really stuck with her so she interviewed her fellow jurors and wrote a paper on it. After law school, she clerked at the North Carolina Supreme Court, during which, she became friends with Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. While there, Chris saw a lot of cases come through, and was concerned about whether some people were actually guilty. She tried bringing it up with one of the Justices and a few clerks but it became clear that after the case is over, the idea of guilt or innocence is off the table. One case in particular stood out to her, she was concerned about how someone could be in jail for 30 years for a crime they didn’t commit. With her background in finance and efficiency, she was surprised at how chaotic the justice system is and the major lack of checks and balances. In 2001, she found out that the two universities were starting the NCCAI and she ended up running the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence – and still does.
The NCCAI receives about 650 applications per year - either from inmates or from the family of inmates. When Chris receives all of the materials, she goes over them and decides whether they’ll be taking the case into “Further Review” which would involve obtaining all court files from the case. Once those are reviewed if it’s still looking like the convicted person is innocent it goes into “Investigation”. This stage is about more hands on work like going out interviewing people, tracking down anything that may help them understand all aspects of the case – and whether they may encounter any issues if they choose to pursue it further.
In 2002, Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., Chris’ friend from the North Carolina Supreme Court established The Criminal Justice Study Commission after some highly publicized exonerations. Jess says he realized some shit was going down. This study commission reviewed police and prosecution procedures for factors that contributed to wrongful convictions in an effort to see why these wrongful convictions were happening.
Within a few years they decided that what they needed was to establish an independent state innocence inquiry commission. Priya jokes that they really needed to establish another acronym. They established the Innocence Inquiry Commission, the purpose of which is to review credible post conviction cases wherein the convicted person claims wrongful conviction.
Jess takes us back to Greg Taylor and reminds us that where they left off in the last episode is with Ed Taylor having gone to visit his son in prison and he’d told him they were out of resources and options – and it was likely Greg would not be getting out of prison. Around this time in 2006, Ed went to the general assembly hearing that was determining if the Independent State Innocence Inquiry Commission would be created. It passed and was created, officially going into operation in 2007. Because everything is connected in North Carolina, the NCCAI sends their cases to the Independent State Innocence Inquiry Commission. Priya tells us that according to the website the Commission is separate from the appeals section of the justice system and that when a person is declared innocent through it they can not be re-tried at any point for the same crime.
When the commission was established Ed Taylor managed to get a written document into the hands of someone having dinner with Chris Mumma. Chris started reading Greg’s story and was blown away, she realized he had applied to the NCCAI but because they had such a large stack of applications, they just hadn’t gotten to his yet. When she reviewed his case she noticed all of the red flags from the way his case was processed. It was clear to her that though Greg and Johnny were just together by chance, law enforcement had actually been after Johnny Beck, but were trying to get to him through Greg. Keith asks if it was because Johnny was a big time drug dealer and Priya and Jess answer that they didn’t think he was “big time”, that he was just a drug dealer. When Chris was going through Greg’s file, she found out about all of the plea offers he had received that said he could go home if he just told them Johnny killed Jacquetta Thomas. Jess points out that if Greg was guilty he probably would have definitely said Johnny did it, and that even as an innocent person it had to be extremely tempting. She says that Greg just remained consistent the entire time. He knew that he had been with Johnny the entire night, from 10 PM to 6 the following morning, that the victim was last seen at 1 AM in her apartment, they saw the body around 3:30 AM, and that Johnny was just as innocent as Greg was. Greg turned down a plea before his trial, during his trial, and five years after his sentence. Chris thought that if he had been involved there was no way he would have passed up those opportunities. Keith says that he could understand before the trial and during because you would be hoping to not be convicted but after you’ve been in prison for five years it would take real conviction to not take the deal and he doesn’t know if he would have been able to do the same.
Chris said whoever attacked Jacquetta Thomas, it wasn’t like they were just trying to stop her or like they were just trying to have control for sexual reasons, which is what was presented at the trial. The way Chris interprets the scene is that it was personal. There was no evidence transferred to either Greg or Johnny, even if the blood on the truck was hers, there were other explanations for how it could have gotten there, but if happened during the attack especially as violent and bloody as the scene was, there was no way it would have been just one spot. Priya points out that Barbara picked them up and says that she wouldn’t pick up someone at three in the morning who was covered in blood. Keith agrees and says if you look like a Jackson Pollock he’s going to keep on driving. Jess says Chris felt like this case had enough red flags to take on and the NCCAI officially agreed to review Greg’s case in February of 2006. The NCCAI gathered all of the necessary info on the case and, in July of 2007, referred it to the Innocence Inquiry Commission.
Priya says that the IIC’s process is more in-depth than a pre-trial investigation and they take a no stone unturned approach. Priya says it’s still a very slow process. So two years later, August of 2009, Greg got a visit from them saying there had been a major revelation in his case. The IIC discovered that a man named Craig Taylor, yes CRAIG Taylor, confessed to selling drugs to Johnny the night of Jacquetta’s murder, but not just that, he confessed to killing her. Keith asked if the confession had been there the whole time, and Jess said no, that it had just came about. In September of 2009, the IIC’s eight-person panel unanimously voted to send Greg’s case to a three-judge panel to decide if he’s innocent. In October of 2009, Chris teams up with two other attorneys Mike Klinkosum and Joe Cheshire and everyone knows this is Greg’s last chance at freedom.
In January of 2010, Chris was going through boxes of evidence, specifically the lab notes that SBI analyst Duane Deaver had taken of the blood evidence found on Greg’s truck. She found something in his notes that completely changed the case, but Jess won’t tell us what that is yet. Keith yells that that’s bullshit and she placates him by saying that what we can know now was that Deaver’s reports had never been shared with the defense.
We’re reminded that the blood evidence was the only thing that linked Greg to Jacquetta Thomas’ brutal murder - and that this “evidence” was mentioned 17 times in Tom Ford’s closing arguments. Priya points out that if you’ve seen “The Staircase”, you’ve definitely seen this before (though not in the detail they’ve gone into) and you just may not remember it. In February of 2010, the evidentiary hearing started and Greg testified, still maintaining his innocence. The DA Colin Willoughby claimed that Craig Taylor’s confession was falsified. Keith says that this all just sounds like shady bullshit - and it really does. The DA had investigated a confession of Craig’s on another murder. Keith asks how many murders this guy confessed to and Priya tells us that it had been a bunch and this was apparently his thing. She also tells us that the DA did not like the IIC, and he knew that a lot of their case hinged on this confession and he wanted to bring it up in court maybe to set them up or afterwards to use it as an example of how the process didn’t work.
A police search and rescue dog trainer, testified on Sadie’s (the adorable bloodhound from episode one) behavior. Sadie was not trained to do what the police had her doing. The handler specifically told the Raleigh PD that Sadie was not trained to do the things that were asking and the officers instructed the handler to try anyway. Barbara, the woman who picked up Greg and Johnny, testified. She said that they didn’t have a weapon or any blood on them, despite the fact that she picked them up so close to the crime scene. She said they were acting perfectly normal. Priya does want to ask her, though, how normal folks act at three AM after smoking crack all night. Keith points out there’s no way if they bludgeoned someone to death, that they would have no blood on them, especially since they were so high and wouldn’t have had the forethought to bring a change of clothes. Johnny Beck, himself, also testified. Jess says this was huge because Johnny had been out of jail for a long time and there was a risk someone could flip something around on him. He says that Greg did not kill Jacquetta Thomas. Ernest Andrews, the jailhouse informant who said Greg had confessed to him, came forward and admitted he lied.
At this point, the state called Duane Deaver to the stand. Priya stops Jess to say the IIC hear testimonies from witnesses and various other people to really get a sense of what’s going on with everything during their investigation process. This is relevant because they had talked to Duane Deaver and he said that his testing was all accurate and true and he did things correctly. On the stand during the hearing when Deaver was questioned about his tests and results, he revealed that they hadn’t stopped at the preliminary tests. What Chris has found in those boxes was evidence of the fact that Deaver had conducted secondary tests on the sample and the results were negative. The spot/substance they found was not human blood. Jess says that when you do these tests, you do several tests – that’s science. Priya tells us that preliminary tests establish the possibility that specific bodily fluids are present. There is the possibly of a false positive, but these tests help determine which tests to do next. The next tests are confirmatory tests.
When doing the first test, in this case, luminol and phenolphthalein, they got a positive reaction, which can happen when blood is present. However, Priya tells us you can get a positive reaction for many other things including cauliflower and broccoli. Keith asks if that means there’s blood in broccoli and Priya says no, it means that it can detect a number of things which is why confirmatory tests are done. Deaver performed confirmatory tests on the spot found on Greg’s truck, using the Takayama test. This test did not deliver the results that indicate human blood.
At the hearing, a woman named Megan Clement a forensic technician for Lab Corp testified that she did her own testing of the DNA and got a 0.00% chance of it being blood. At this point Deaver admits that in the lab, reporting on the results of confirmatory tests is not required and that the decisions on procedure were made by people higher up than him - he claimed it wasn’t on him to question it and he was following protocol.
Chris confirmed to Jess and Priya that the state lab had a policy that they only had to report the positive tests. If they received a negative, they were not required to report it. Keith remarks that they’re not just cheating, it’s in their handbook to cheat. On February 17th, 2010, Greg Taylor is finally free. Tom Ford, the DA, apologized to Greg Taylor. Jess says he shook his hand like it was a soccer match and not 17 years of his life ruined. Priya rants that it’s not a fucking game and she’s right. Tom Ford was quoted saying that if he thought he’d put an innocent person in jail it would tear him up, but he hadn’t lost a minute of sleep over it. Jess tells us that that was nine years ago and they still haven’t caught the person who murdered Jacquetta Thomas. Chris gave them suggestions on some people to look into but they’re so convinced Greg and Johnny did it that they haven’t tried.
Word spread around North Carolina really quickly and people were understandably upset, thinking if it happened to Greg, it could happen to them. Because of this, Attorney General Roy Cooper called for a complete audit of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab, bringing in two former FBI agents to complete the audit.
Next week on F’d Up, Priya and Jess are gonna get into some more of the F’d Up stories that they discovered.