The man who served nearly four decades in jail for his involvement in the Pioneer Hotel fire has found himself back behind bars.
Louis Taylor was released from prison four years ago, but his release was short-lived, as he was arrested Thursday in connection with an armed robbery at the Riverpark Inn on West Cushing Street in June. Tucson police arrested the 63-year-old after video surveillance from the hotel showed him walking behind the counter and demanding money from the clerk.
Police said he assaulted the clerk with a baseball bat and fled the scene with an undisclosed amount of money. Video and forensic evidence at the scene aided authorities in identifying Taylor.
In 1972, he was sentenced to 28 concurrent life sentences stemming from his conviction for killing 28 of the 29 people who died in the blaze that ripped through the historic hotel. He had served more than forty years when legal advocates came to his defense, launching a multi-year campaign to free him. The Arizona Justice Project argued that the prosecution withheld evidence, spoke to the judge without defense lawyers present and communicated inappropriately with jurors. They also used advances in forensic fire science to cast doubt on the methods used in the initial investigation. Many key witnesses to the crime passed away and key evidence had been destroyed. Investigators presented a profile suggesting the arsonist was a young black man, and Taylor was convicted by an all-white jury during a time of ongoing racial tension in Tucson. This all led to rising concerns by some that Taylor was not the culprit.
Taylor was a mere 16 years old when the flames ripped through the building shortly after midnight on December 20, 1970. He maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison, and changed his plea to no contest through a plea agreement with the Pima County Attorney’s Office. His release soon followed, but before long, the online fundraising campaign and financial support dwindled, and Taylor was homeless.
Now, it looks like future may be spent behind bars, as he faces charges in the armed robbery case. His bond is set at $4,500 and he will remain in police custody until his July 24 preliminary hearing. Taylor has an ongoing lawsuit against the city of Tucson and Pima County in federal court, which he filed in 2015 with claims of racial discrimination, deliberate in difference to prosecutorial misconduct, and failure to properly train police officers.
A year after Taylor’s release, encouraged by a nationwide movement to investigate prisoners’ claims of innocence, the Pima County Attorney’s Office created a Conviction Integrity Unit. According to the official website, “All prosecutors want to convict the guilty, not the innocent. But while the trial and appellate process contain important safeguards for those accused of crime, we recognize that the criminal justice system is a human institution and therefore cannot be perfect.That is why Pima County Attorney, Barbara LaWall, in October 2014, established a unit to investigate wrongful conviction claims. This Conviction Integrity Unit serves to safeguard the public and to fulfill our office’s ethical duty to seek justice in every case.”
Stay posted on the latest on the official website here.