The 2009 jailhouse interview might be the strongest piece.
It’s the moment when Greg Taylor of Raleigh, 16 years into a life sentence for a murder he did not commit, finds out from his lawyers that someone else has confessed to the crime.
Shock registers on his face as a stone blank look before his head falls into his hand and the sobs shudder through his body; we see the enormity of it all wash over him in waves, a catharsis made all the more potent because it’s real.
It is a remarkable piece of footage, pertinent because the confession convinced the eight-member NC Innocence Inquiry Commission to unanimously recommend a review by the three-judge panel that eventually granted Taylor his freedom.
But the confession itself — by a man named Craig Taylor, no relation — was torn apart in arguments during Taylor’s innocence hearing. It was the bit with the State Bureau of Investigation that sealed the deal. And they’ve got that on camera, too.
One of Greg Taylor’s attorneys, Mike Klinkosum, has pinned down SBI analyst Duane Deaver during a cross examination before the three judges. Taylor had been convicted in 1993 largely because of evidence from the SBI serology lab noting the presence of blood from the victim, Jacquetta Thomas, on Taylor’s truck — the only physical evidence that linked the two of them that night. Klinkosum wants to know why the prosecution had evidence of Thomas’ blood, while the reports from the serology lab indicated that the sample was not blood at all.
Backed into a corner, Deaver reveals that he was acting on an SBI policy to indicate the presence of blood evidence when it could — that the state of North Carolina had been deliberately withholding evidence from defense attorneys as a matter of course, not just in this instance, but every instance. This revelation causes a scary moment of stillness in the courtroom; all three judges have their hands over their mouths and lawyers from both sides just look at each other uneasily.
Deaver’s testimony would lead to a massive SBI scandal: decades of tainted evidence that prosecutors around the state had used to make more than 200 convictions, three of them death-penalty cases that could never be made right.
But that bit is very technical, requiring some explanation of the practices used by the lab and the significance of the Takayama hemochromogen test. It needs to be in the film, but probably not up front.
These are the matters that consume Gregg Jamback and Jamie Huss, custodians of more than 80 hours of footage concerning the Greg Taylor episode — they began shooting while Taylor was still behind bars — and producers of the independent documentary film In Pursuit of Justice, which will attempt to rein in the sprawling saga that begins in a suburban Raleigh cul de sac after midnight in 1991 and is not quite over yet.
The two have been involved since 2010, and they’re still trimming the thing down, still debating the true essence of the story, still raising funds for the last stages of production.
“There’s a lot of technical stuff that needs to be done, high-dollar tech stuff ,” Huss said. “We’ve got about $86,000 of our own time and money in this already; as independent filmmakers, we’ve hit our wall. We’ve hit our personal wall after six years.”
And then there’s that most daunting question all narrative storytellers must face: In a story this layered and complex, where do we even begin?
The rough cut that screened last week at Hanesbrands Theatre in downtown Winston-Salem begins with police sirens.
The discovery of a dead body in Raleigh makes the nightly news, along with footage of Greg Taylor’s SUV stuck in the mud behind the cul de sac about 50 yards away.
Taylor — a white father and husband with a steady job — had been smoking crack that night with Johnny Beck, a running partner who was none of those things, when they decided to do a little four-wheeling in the mud flat beyond the cul de sac. When the truck got stuck, they gathered their crack and walked to the street. And that’s when they saw the body.
The night of Taylor’s arrest could have been re-enacted into a wonderful piece of gritty, gonzo-style docudrama. He and Beck agreed that it would not be in their best interests to get involved with a murder investigation. They walked to an all-night gas station where they met Barbara Ray; the trio spent the rest of the evening smoking rock cocaine in various party houses in the city.