6,149 Days: The Story of Gregory Taylor

Alyssa MacKinnon

Bucknall Theater was almost full to capacity as students eagerly awaited the story of Gregory Taylor.

Taylor was married to his high school sweetheart and a loving father to an eight year old girl when he was charged with the first degree murder of Jacquetta Thomas, a prostitute found dead in a cul-de-sac near where Taylor’s truck was stuck.

Mario Gabry, the Dean of the Henry C. Lee College, spoke on the necessity of balance and gave credit to the improvement of forensic science as a remedy for wrongful convictions.

“The injustice of a wrongful conviction is the greatest failure of our justice system,” Attorney Chris Mumma said. She expounded upon the numerous claims sent to the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence: 93 active cases out of 600 claims a year, but over 95 percent are rejected after initial review. In order to be selected, a case must create an unwavering belief in innocence. The NCCAI works all over the United States and has demonstrated some successes. Other people who have successfully worked with NCCAI are Ronald Cotten, Daryl Hunt, Leon Brown, and Joseph Sledge. Mumma introduced Taylor as a personal friend and as a man of the utmost integrity.

Taylor took to the stage, his voice emotional but clear as a hint of southern accent came in. He introduced himself and spoke of his average life before he was arrested. Setting the scene of the evening, Taylor described the early morning of Sept. 26, 1991. It was around 3 a.m. and the night was overcast as his white two door SUV got stuck in the mud. As Taylor and his friend Johnny Beck walked toward the cul-de-sac to catch a ride, they saw what looked to be a body, but dismissed it as a mannequin or delusion.

Beck, Taylor’s friend and fellow drug enthusiast, stayed with his friend and continued partying with the soon-to-be mother they hitchhiked a ride from named Barbara Ray. After Taylor got home, he dropped his daughter off at school and had his wife take him to the scene. At this point the detectives on the scene interviewed him about the evening, and he was forthcoming about his drug use that evening with his friend and persistent in denying that he or his friend had any involvement with the murder.

Taylor asked for an attorney and a polygraph test but was denied. Mumma counted in the initial interrogation—68 lies, ten offers to flip on Beck, and 107 denials by Taylor. Jim Blackburn initially represented Taylor but Blackburn resigned from the case after declaring himself mentally incapable after light was shed on his forgery and embezzlement practices.

“I never believed an innocent person could be arrested or denied appeal, realistically it looked then like I would die in prison,” Taylor said.

In 2005, Mumma took the case and worked for two years on establishing the flaws in the case that allowed an innocent man to be held in prison for 17 years.

“I needed someone who would argue for me, so I could get my life back,” Taylor said.

Mumma presented the evidence to students; explaining the inconsistencies of the investigation work and the contradictions between evidence and conclusions drawn by the detectives. For instance, the marks on the body suggested a personal attack due to the overkill and defensive nature of the victim’s wounds but no personal link had been established between Taylor and the victim. The detectives seemingly looked over the need for victimology for a prostitute and the medical evidence that did not corroborate their theory, and no investigation was conducted into her drug use. The actions of the accused screamed of compliance, as he volunteered for multiple tests, gave his keys to both his home and truck, and refusal to take a plea bargain but the detectives had their theory to uphold. “It was so much stress, to want something so badly but be powerless,” Kristen, Taylor’s daughter, said.

The story has a fitting conclusion however, in that Taylor was exonerated on Feb. 17, 2010 as evidence was finally reviewed in every light.

This presentation was made all the more impactful when Mumma announced supportively, as Taylor started to tear up, that not only had the anniversary of his incarceration occurred this weekend but that his father had passed away on Friday but Taylor wanted to continue with this presentation so that no father would have to go through what his did.

As the audience began to stand and applaud, it was obvious that many had taken his message to heart and the feeling in the room of renewed support for justice was overwhelming.