After spending 42 years of his life in Arizona state prison, 59-year-old Louis Cuen Taylor plead no contest to a plea agreement that set aside his original conviction and credited him with time served. Taylor was only 16 years old when he was sentenced to a term of more than two dozen consecutive life sentences, so he stated that "It feels good to just feel Mother Earth underneath my feet, free Mother Earth," as he walked freely out of the prison for the first time in four decades. He had been accused of starting a fire that set the Pioneer Hotel ablaze in December of 1970, but he has always maintained his innocence. Since Taylor is African American, he claims that he was given an unfair trial with an all-white jury after police accused him of arson. Once CBS' "60 Minutes" conducted an investigation of his case in 2002, however, lawyers with The Arizona Justice Project worked diligently to pursue his freedom.
According to "60 Minutes," Taylor had been at the Pioneer Hotel that night because he thought that he could score some free food and drinks. Once the fire started, he was asked by police officers and rescue teams to knock on doors and guide injured guests to safety. Soon thereafter, he was detained by police and blamed for starting the fire. Although newer investigative techniques concluded that the cause of the fire was "undetermined," the original fire investigator on the case, Cy Holmes, determined that the cause of the fire was arson and explained to the City Council that the suspect is "probably a negro, and he's probably 18." Fitting this description, Taylor was quickly blamed for the deaths of the 28 victims who did not make it out of the fire that night. 42 years later, he was finally given the chance to fight these accusations under the qualified guidance of The Arizona Justice Project.
Since Taylor has always maintained that he was innocent, he was hesitant to plead no contest and accept the plea agreement that would eventually lead to his freedom. In fact, Arizona Justice Project Executive Co-Director Katie Puzauskas explained that "He initially rejected it." At the end of the day, however, he knew that he was being given the opportunity to start his life over. Although he was asked to sacrifice 42 years of his life, Louis Cuen Taylor is now a free man. For this reason, you should not hesitate to fight for your second chance if you or someone you love has already been convicted of a crime. With the help of a St. Augustine criminal defense attorney from Taylor & Waldrop Attorneys, you too may be able to obtain post-conviction relief. Call our office today at (888) 387-9958 to get started.