A fire at the Pioneer International Hotel that killed 29 people in 1970 has kept Louis Cuen Taylor behind bars after being convicted 40 years ago on a crime he didn’t commit.
Taylor walked out of prison hours after agreeing to a deal with prosecutors after his conviction was called into question.
He called his case a “tale of two tragedies” — referring to the fire and his conviction.
The 59-year-old Taylor has been locked up since he was 16 years old. He plans to talk more about his case at a news conference Wednesday.
Taylor, 59, showed no visible reaction as he accepted the deal and said “no contest” 28 different times — for each murder count leveled against him. When it was all finished, Superior Court Judge Richard Fields said, “Welcome back, Mr. Taylor.”
Taylor was sentenced to 28 consecutive life sentences and repeatedly has maintained his innocence. Taylor, who is black, contends he was wrongly convicted by an all-white jury after he says police failed to investigate other suspects. Reports at the time indicate Taylor was helping people escape the blaze before being arrested later that night.
Prosecutors still believe that Taylor is guilty, but said they would not be able to pursue a new trial due to a lack of evidence and living witnesses.
Taylor did not speak in court on his own behalf and had no statement. A news conference was scheduled for Wednesday.
The hearing was marked by dramatic testimony from a Washington, D.C., man who was 4 years old when his father was killed in the fire at the age of 31. Paul d’Hedouville II said his father was staying at the hotel and waiting for his family to arrive for a Christmas vacation, with gifts in his suite.
“Instead, my father was buried on Christmas Eve 1970,” d’Hedouville said. He lamented how his father was never there to teach him how to ride a bike or see his soccer games. “He was never able to dance with my bride at my wedding,” d’Hedouville said.
He did not address questions of Taylor’s guilt as he looked directly at the inmate and said, “I harbor no feelings of ill will or vengeance against you.”
The 1970 Pioneer fire was one of the worst in Arizona history.