After reading about the exoneration of Gregory Taylor in North Carolina — wrongfully convicted of murder in 1993 — I wrote this email to the prosecutor that convicted him, Colon Willoughby, Jr., of Wake County. After a North Carolina panel on innocence recommended Taylor be freed, Willoughby declared:
“I told him I’m very sorry he was convicted,” Mr. Willoughby told The Associated Press. “I wish we had had all of this evidence in 1991.”
As you can tell, such statements make me sick. Willoughby had the same information available in 1991 that he has now. He wanted a conviction, and he got it. Will he face any punishment or sanctions? Right. It is quite clear that prosecutors misrepresented the evidence that they had, so Willoughby’s “apology” truly is a joke.
Anyway, here is the email I sent to him (I won’t hold my breath for a reply):
I see that you have attributed the wrongful conviction of Gregory Taylor to not having the correct evidence. Please. The evidence that exonerated him existed in 1991, and had you and your fellow prosecutors been interested in finding the truth, you could have done so.
I began following the exploits of North Carolina prosecutors when the Little Rascals case exploded, and I watched as your profession railroaded innocent people into prison on the most outrageous and unbelievable charges. (I am supposed to believe that an adult can put a sword up the rectum of a child and leave no marks. Amazing. Don’t try this at home.)
What I have found is that prosecutors in North Carolina go by the ethic of conviction first, explanation later. Where were you when Mike Nifong was running amok in neighboring Durham, fabricating “evidence,” lying to judges and to everyone else, and breaking every ethics rule that supposedly govern your profession? I never remember hearing any concerns from you, and I followed this case very closely and wrote more than 60 articles about it.
Are you going to try to reform your grand jury system so at least we have transcripts of grand jury proceedings in North Carolina, or will the grand jury continue to be your plaything, the prosecutors’ toy in which you can indict a “ham sandwich” if you so choose? When Mark Gottlieb and Ben Himan lied to grand juries in Durham regarding the Duke Lacrosse Case, they could do so without any fear at all of being indicted for perjury.
So, unless prosecutors in North Carolina get serious about actually trying to find the truth and do justice instead of just getting convictions at all costs, I am not going to take any of your apologies seriously. You took 7,000 days of a man’s life, and you will not be inconvenienced a whit. Your session at the Presbyterian church where you serve as an elder will not ask you anything about your integrity or whether or not you have the basic decency even to serve in that capacity. You might remember that the Apostle Paul laid down very, very strict rules about the conduct of an elder, and if in your line of work, you are not willing to go by those directives, then maybe you should resign from your position or at least from your session.
Your half-hearted “Gee, I did not have the information” apology means nothing, absolutely nothing. You will show up at your office and proceed to try to throw other people — maybe some innocent people — into prison as though the Taylor case never happened. It was not that the information necessary had not fallen into your lap; it is that you were not interested in finding whether or not Taylor was guilty or innocent, which the ethical rules governing prosecutors say you must do. No, you wanted your conviction, and you got it, and Taylor was deprived basically of his life.
In a very real sense, you took a man’s life, but you will not be punished for it. So, please do not say justice has been done. Indeed, it will not be done until you have to spend 7,000 days in prison yourself. Obviously, that never will happen, as prosecutors are part of a protected class of people who never have to pay for wrongdoing.
You say that Nifong lost his license and his job? Wow! He knowingly tried to railroad three innocent people into prison, forced families to spend millions of dollars to defend their children against obviously-false charges, and destroyed the reputations of a number of people, all to win an election. And all he lost was his job? That is not justice; that is a slap on the wrist.
So, if the maximum penalty for a prosecutor in North Carolina who has done wrong is a slap on the wrist, how can anyone say the system is just? It is not, and the Taylor case once again shows us that North Carolina prosecutors really are a law unto themselves.
William L. Anderson