Taylor's alleged accomplice testifies that both are innocent

- Staff writer

Johnny Beck, who dodged the same murder charge that landed Greg Taylor in prison for nearly 17 years, took the stand today and insisted that both he and Taylor were not guilty.

"This man is innocent," Beck said. "I don't understand. It's mind-boggling. It's scary this happened."

Beck's testimony came during a hearing in which Taylor is asking a panel of judges to exonerate him. A Wake County jury convicted Taylor in 1993 of killing Jacquetta Thomas. Charges against Beck were later dismissed for insufficient evidence.

Beck says he has no idea why he escaped prosecution and Taylor didn't.

"I still don't know today exactly why," he said. "I told them nothing different. I told the truth."

Beck recalled his wife's eerie premonition after he told her he thought they'd seen a dead body in a cul-de-sac in Southeast Raleigh. She told him: "You gonna get in trouble on those streets."

Raleigh police targeted the pair because Taylor's SUV was stuck in the mud near where police found Thomas' body the next day. At Taylor's trial, prosecutors told jurors that Beck was the killer and that Taylor had helped and was guilty of murder just the same.

Beck and Taylor have not seen each other or spoken since the night before Thomas' death. Their recollection of the night they ventured into Southeast Raleigh on Sept. 25, 1991, for crack cocaine was similar.

Beck dramatically described seeing Thomas' body lying in the cul-de-sac as he and Taylor left to thumb a ride back to town.

"It shocked me. I thought it was a man," Beck said. "Then, I thought it was carpet. I'd never seen a body in the streets." Earlier Thursday, a woman who picked up Taylor and Beck after their truck got stuck in the mud that night testified that neither man had blood on his clothes or skin.

Taylor was charged with murdering Jacquetta Taylor the next day. Crime scene experts testified earlier this week that whoever killed Thomas that night would have been covered in blood.

"I have a very weak stomach," said Barbara Ray, who picked up Taylor and Beck that night. "If I had seen blood on them I never never would have let them in my car."

Ray's testimony was different from what she told police shortly after Thomas' death. Ray explained to judges that she was a drug addict in 1991 and she was trying to protect her children from her problem. She said that her life is under control now and felt compelled to tell the truth.

Earlier Thursday, a police dog trainer testified that a police dog used at the crime scene where Thomas' body was found never signaled she found Thomas' scent on Greg Taylor's SUV, contrary to testimony by the dog's handler at Taylor's trial.

"There's such power of suggestion here," said Jonni Joyce said, an expert called by Greg Taylor's lawyers. "He altered the investigation."

Joyce said investigators shouldn't have used the dog they did to track scents to Taylor's SUV because the dog wasn't trained for that sort of task.

Joyce said Sadie, the dog, was not trained to track the scent of the dead; she was a search dog who tracks the trail of a missing person. Andy Currin, the dog's police handler, initially told his supervisors that Sadie couldn't perform the task the day Thomas' body was discovered.

They insisted he do it anyway. Joyce said the dog would have been trying to please his master. She thinks the dog didn't track Thomas' scent to Taylor's SUV. "The handler can talk the dog into a false read," she said.

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