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Ariz. Hotel Arson: Man Freed After 42 Years

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By Andrew Lu on April 03, 2013 10:30 AM

A man who was serving 28 consecutive life sentences for an Arizona hotel arson is now free after spending 42 years in prison.

Through these decades, Louis Taylor, now 59, maintained that he had nothing to do with the fire that killed more than two dozen people in 1970, reports NBC News.

Taylor pleaded no contest Tuesday in a deal that set aside his conviction and allowed him to go free. The reason? New questions about what caused the fire, and about how Taylor's case was handled.

The Arizona Hotel Arson Case

Taylor was 16 years old when a judge sentenced him to consecutive life sentences for an arson at the Pioneer Hotel in Tucson. Twenty-nine people were killed in the fire, including some who jumped to their deaths and others who died from carbon-monoxide poisoning inside the hotel, reports NBC News.

Taylor has maintained that the police targeted him because he is black, and that he had no chance before an all-white jury. In 2002, after an investigation by CBS' "60 Minutes," the Arizona Justice Project took on his case and questioned the evidence against the convict.

Questioning the Evidence

The Justice Project's investigation raised serious concerns. Most notably, Taylor was interrogated without a lawyer present, and officials used racial profiling in finding a suspect, NBC News reports.

In addition, newer fire-investigation techniques could not even pinpoint arson as the cause of the fire. Taylor maintains he was in the hotel only to try to score free food from hotel guests. In fact, he says that he helped fire officials alert guests of the fire, only to be later blamed for the fire itself.

While Taylor has been freed from prison, you should know that his agreement to plead no contest to the crime does not mean he has been exonerated. Instead, a no contest plea basically means that the defendant is conceding the charge without admitting guilt and without presenting a defense.

So while Louis Taylor may have won his freedom, in the eyes of the Arizona court system, he has not cleared his name.

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