Louis Taylor Savors Freedom After 40 Years in Prison

By Dianne Walker

Through his tears Louis Taylor could hardly speak when he was interviewed by CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker after being freed from prison after 40-years for something he did not do. “How did this happen?”  exclaimed Taylor. “We live in a country that is supposed to have the best criminal justice system in the world.”

In 1970 Taylor was only 16 years old when he was accused and convicted of 29 counts of murder.  How did this happen?  Taylor was working at the Pioneer Hotel in Tucson when the building perished in a fire that killed 29 people.  Originally, Taylor was regarded as a hero because he rescued people from the burning hotel. Taylor is a trained medical technician so in an emergency his training to save lives took over, but he believes because he is African American his status quickly went from hero to criminal.

Taylor was charged with 29 counts of murder and spent 40 years behind bars for a crime he claims he “did not do.”

Thanks to 60 minutes Investigation, Arizona Justice Project, and his legal team, Taylor is now a free man. Even though a shoddy investigation and racial bias was uncovered, Taylor had to take a plea bargain of “no contest” to 28 counts of murder before being released from prison, but the plea was no bargain for Taylor. He was forced into the plea agreement to avoid a retrial.   The Pima County prosecutor said, “His release doesn't mean exoneration. His conviction still stands.”

So why did Taylor plead no contest to 29 counts of murder instead of fighting for his innocence? Because the Pima County attorney’s office would of taken the case all the way to the Supreme Court and meanwhile Taylor would be sitting in prison for another 2, 3, or 4 years. He wasn’t about to give the state 1 more hour of his life.

It doesn’t make sense that for an innocent person to be freed from prison he has to admit to being “partly guilty.” Plea bargaining does not provide innocent people an opportunity to prove their innocence and clear their names. 

Not only was Taylor robbed of 40 years of his life, but he is faced with adjusting to the modern world of technology that transpired while he was in prison. Since he was only 16 when he was arrested, Taylor does not even know how to drive a car. Telephones had a dial and were plugged into the wall when Taylor went to prison.  Despite all of the learning about new technology Taylor will need to function in society. He is equipped to follow through with his intentions, which he says is “to spend the rest of his days living and doing good things.” Taylor made good use of his time while incarcerated by getting an education.

When Taylor was released from prison on the evening of April 2nd, the first place Taylor headed for was In and Out drive through burger restaurant and enjoyed his first meal as a free man; a cheese burger with all the fixings. Although, he probably went through the front door since he doesn’t have a driver’s license.   

After losing 40 years of his life Taylor can still find it in his heart to forgive the justice system.