A few days before Christmas in 1970, a teenager named Louis Taylor was having a good time at a party at the Pioneer Hotel in Tucson but quickly snapped into action when a fire broke out in the facility. The young man knocked on doors to alert guests of the situation and, when casualties started to mount, helped put injured people on stretchers. Twenty-eight people were killed that night. But as Steve Kroft recently reported on 60 Minutes, rumors started circulating that Taylor might have been the culprit behind the blaze, and he was arrested and convicted. He spent the next 42 years in prison and was released only a few weeks ago.
There is little evidence, however, that Taylor committed the crime. For one thing, several fires had broken out at the location previously and all had pointed to another suspect, but that information was never presented to the jury. Top fire experts, looking at the case today, say that it’s not even clear that arson was the cause. Taylor confessed only after being questioned all night by eight different police officers and he did not have an attorney or guardian with him, suggesting, as Kroft puts it, that Taylor had been “railroaded.” Far from there being enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, even the trial judge said later that he would not have voted to convict.