ONLY ON KOLD: Life After Life Sentence: Louis Taylor - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

ONLY ON KOLD: Life After Life Sentence: Louis Taylor

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Louis Taylor says he would lie in his cell at night and dream of the time he would be released from prison.

He said, "I always knew it would come." But there are times when his patience was tried.

"I'm a patient man," he said. "42 years, yeah, I'm patient."

Taylor spent 42 years trying to convince the legal system of his innocence.

Even the judge in his 1971 trial said he would not have convicted him based on the evidence.

But it wasn't until April 2013 that the rest of the legal system would finally be convinced.

Still, not everyone will admit it.

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall would only go so far as a no contest plea and credit for time served to free him although she admitted it would be next to impossible to get a conviction if Taylor was tried again.

Too much time had passed and too much evidence had been lost.

But what that evidence would likely show is there is considerable doubt as to Taylor's guilt.

New fire forensic science shows the cause of the blaze is inconclusive, not arson as investigators believed at the time.

Without conclusive evidence, there is doubt whether a crime was committed and in this case, doubt whether 29 people died as a result of arson.

New technology shows the fire could have been started by multiple sources.

Still LaWall clings.

She told 60 Minutes, "Inconclusive doesn't mean it wasn't arson."

Still, the power of 60 Minutes, the persistence of the Justice Project and the advent of new fire science all came together to free Taylor.

43 years removed from that chaotic, tragic night in 1970, Taylor now quietly tends the grounds and does routine maintenance at the Loft Theater on East Speedway Boulevard.

The daily routine seems to fit where he is now.

"I don't dwell on the past. I go forward," he said while tending the plants. "You can't catch up for 42 years. Once you lost it, you lost it."

Taylor is not trying to make up for lost time.

There are no big book deals, no movie rights, no high-dollar restitution demands. His transition is keeping it simple.

"I just live day to day. I don't worry about tomorrow. Next week. I just live day to day," he said.

Twenty-nine people died as fire swept through the Pioneer Hotel on Dec. 20, 1970. It was crowded during the Christmas holiday. Many of the people in the hotel were from Mexico. 

More may have died had it not been for the efforts of a 17-year-old boy who had been hanging around the hotel. He helped get people out and was called a hero by some.

"I wish I could have saved some more people out of there," he said.

But for others he was the prime suspect.

"He said, 'Oh by the way, we have a little colored boy in custody.' And that little colored boy was Louis Taylor," he said about the time of the arrest.

He was tried and convicted by an all-white jury in Phoenix. He was spared the death penalty but he was sentenced to 29 life terms with no chance of parole.

He bristles when asked why he didn't just leave or just run away.

"Run away from what," he said, "I had nothing to run away from."

In a Tucson courtroom this past spring, the plea deal with the county attorney set him free.

He pleaded not contest to each murder charge and was sentenced to time served.

He said, "I didn't want to spend another hour, another minute another second in prison."

He might have been freed and declared innocent at a new trial but that would have taken years so he took the deal.

Under it, he cannot sue the state.

He said he has no animosity for the people who put him there..

"Someday they got to meet their maker too. I don't have no ill feelings against nobody," he said. "I'm just trying to go forward. That's it."

But after spending decades living in a 6'-by-8' prison cell, being told when to get up, when to eat, when to sleep and following strict orders every day, transitioning to a life where he makes his own choices for good or for bad, can be daunting.

"There's a few steps, learning about life, things you and I take for granted," said Judy Boslos, an antique dealer who is helping Taylor cope. "There's the grocery shopping, cooking, having a regular schedule."

Or driving a car. Taylor is content he says riding his bike. He says he enjoys freedom and his bike rides are a symbol of freedom.

Although he toys with the idea, he's not sure he will ever drive.

"Cars scare me," he said. "My friends who have nice cars, I tell them to slow down or I'll get out right here and now."

And then there's the fear of flying.

"30,000 feet how they going to guarantee my safety," he said. "30 parachutes can't guarantee my safety at that height."

His time at the antique store is giving him a chance to learn new skills.

"I'm learning how to do estate sales, get on ebay and look at furniture," he says.  "It's an internship. I love working here."

But most people out of prison don't have the support system he has.

"I think it's just really hard for people like Louis in his situation to find work," said the General Manager of the Loft Theater, Peggy Johnson.

She hired him right out of prison and its a relationship which has worked well for both.

"He takes it very seriously. He works hard and I love that," Johnson said. "He's very committed to it and I think it has given his life some kind of meaning."

Meaning he needs because he has no family anymore. But has a committed support system which he stays close to and is loyal to.

"Are we glad Louis is out of prison. Yes. But..." Attorney Michael Piccaretta says at a county bar association luncheon.

He helped get Taylor free but laments the fact it was based on no contest pleas and not on a not guilty verdict.

Taylor told the room full of attorneys "I don't have any ill feelings against anybody in my life. It's good to be free."

He was honored by the NAACP where, as he showed off his plaque, he hinted who might play him if his story ever gets to the big screen.

"Jamie Foxx. Or Will Smith," he said.

But whether Foxx or Smith ever play that role is just a dream for Taylor but one that time has allowed him to dream.

"You know society is different from 1970. Really different," he said. "We have a black president."

"Now African Americans say if you can dream it, you can achieve it. Anything."

And what Taylor is now working to achieve, is likely one for the ages.

"My whole life is on Google and it'll be there for one thousand years, a million years," he said. "Hopefully the 42 years won't be in vain. That's all I ask."

To see a raw interview with Taylor, click here.

Copyright 2013 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.


Powered by Frankly