TUCSON, Ariz. — The top county prosecutor in the Tucson area will not ask a court to throw out convictions for a man who was imprisoned for decades in a 1970 hotel fire that killed 29 people yet was released from custody in a 2013 deal with prosecutors.
Pima County Attorney Laura Conover said in a statement earlier this week that no new evidence of innocence was found for Louis Taylor in the blaze at the Pioneer Hotel.
A unit of Conover’s office that examines claims of innocence and excessive sentencing had reviewed the case against Taylor, who was 16 when he arrested at the hotel.
Conover said “no further action will be taken in the Taylor criminal case.”
Taylor was originally sentenced to life in prison, but he was released in 2013 after serving more than 40 years in a deal with Conover’s predecessor.
Under the agreement, Taylor pleaded no contest, allowing a judge to sentence him to time served. Prosecutors had concluded back then that modern fire science was inconclusive about whether the fire was arson or an accident, Conover said.
Taylor maintained that he was innocent and has said he went to the hotel to get free drinks and food from various parties during the holiday season.
At the time of his release, prosecutors insisted Taylor was guilty and emphasized that the deal wasn’t an exoneration. They also acknowledged that getting a conviction at a new trial would be dicey given that some evidence had been lost and witnesses have either moved or died.
The Arizona Justice Project, which has represented Taylor in his criminal case since 2001, said in a statement this week that Conover’s office has passed up an “opportunity to correct one of the most severe injustices Pima County has ever seen.”
The project said the prosecutor’s office had advised it would file a motion in court to have Taylor’s convictions thrown out. “For reasons never fully explained, however, that motion was not filed,” the project said.
Conover's office declined to comment on whether it had in fact indicated that it would file such a motion.
The project said witnesses have recanted statements and instances of prosecutorial misconduct have surfaced, such as hiding exculpatory evidence from the defense team.
The original fire investigator had said he profiled the suspect as a Black person, but insisted his statements had nothing to do with Taylor’s arrest. Taylor is Black.
The Arizona Daily Star reports that Taylor sued Pima County and the city of Tucson in 2015 for violating his right to due process and a fair trial, alleging racism and civil conspiracy led to his arrest and conviction.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019, however, that Taylor could not collect damages for his time in prison because of the no contest plea he made.
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