The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday March 24th

Free at last: Innocence Commission is a model for other states

Justice has been served — just 17 years too late.

On Wednesday, the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission helped exonerate its first individual, Gregory Taylor. He had served nearly 17 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

But after a review by the state commission, Taylor’s case went in front of a three-judge panel, which declared him innocent.

This innocence commission is a model that other states should follow. People wrongfully convicted whose appeals have expired should have a method of recourse.

Founded by the N.C. General Assembly in 2006, the commission was created after a year-and-a-half review of post-conviction processes, both in the United States and beyond.

Its goal is to provide an independent forum for credible claims of innocence in North Carolina. Groups represented by the commission include the defense bar, the judiciary, law enforcement, prosecutors, victims’ advocates and the public.

The commission has shed light on the evidence-collecting practices of our state investigators and the gridlock of North Carolina’s appeals system.

For instance, a crime scene expert testified during Taylor’s trial that a substance found in Taylor’s truck was blood. But further evidence showed that other tests, disproving the previous tests, were not included in the reports used at Taylor’s trial.

Even after all charges were dropped against Taylor’s co-defendent and another man allegedly confessed to the crime, it still took years for Taylor to be released.

The Innocence Inquiry Commission sped up this process, and it is a necessary tool for those in Taylor’s position. After all, there is an inherent problem when it takes 17 years to exonerate a man even when all physical evidence linking him to the crime is disproved.

Wednesday was a historic moment for North Carolina’s judicial system and a victory for all those wrongfully incarcerated in our state. We can only hope that other states will follow suit.

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