Arsonist in deadly Ariz. fire to be released after 40-plus years
TUCSON — A man who has spent more than four decades in prison for a Tucson hotel fire that killed 29 people, including some who jumped from windows to escape the searing heat, is expected to be released on Tuesday as part of a deal with prosecutors.
Louis Cuen Taylor of Tucson was convicted of murder as a teen but has maintained his innocence in the December 1970 fire at the Pioneer Hotel.
He is scheduled to plead no contest to murder in an agreement that sets aside his original conviction and gives him credit for time served, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
The fire occurred during a Christmas party for employees of an aircraft company and left guests trapped in their rooms.
The building had no sprink-ler system, exits were locked to prevent theft, and fire truck ladders were too short to reach the higher floors. Those factors led some people to jump from windows to their deaths. Others burned to death in their rooms. Most died of carbon-monoxide poisoning while waiting for rescue.
In total, 29 lives were lost to the blaze, including one victim who died months later in a hospital.
Taylor was in the hotel that night watching the festivities. After the fire broke out, he and a hotel custodian tried to extinguish the blaze, then Taylor helped some of the trapped and injured guests escape. Hours later, he was taken into custody, interviewed by police without parental consent and charged with starting the fire. He was convicted in 1972 and sentenced to 28 concurrent life terms.
Judge Charles L. Hardy, who presided over Taylor's 1972 trial, publicly expressed skepticism about the jury's decision to convict the Tucson teen. In one letter he sent Taylor in the early 1980s, the judge, who died in December 2010, said he was negotiating with Arizona lawmakers to have the sentence commuted, but the deal was predicated on Taylor admitting guilt, which he refused to do.
Michael Piccarreta, one of the Arizona Justice Project lawyers advocating on behalf of Taylor, said Taylor maintains his innocence but will plead no contest as a way of getting out of prison quickly. Project attorneys said several defense experts, using modern forensic fire science, would testify they would not have ruled the blaze arson.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- VA Phoenix social worker on leave for Halloween costume
- Obama signs $607B Defense bill but blasts GOP limits for Gitmo
- U.S. has urged legal reforms abroad to block Islamic State recruits
- Student dies in traditional Ohio State University lake jump
- Email address gives FBI lead on record theft of user IDs, passwords
- New Hampshire cancer patient gets permission to travel to Maine for medical pot
- Military Academy bans pillow fights; 30 hurt during last one
- Video prompts calls for probe of Chicago police
- Peanut glut poses hefty bailout tab for taxpayers
- Barrier nears completion in Indiana marsh to keep Asian carp from Great Lakes
- U.S. troops suspended in airstrike on Afghan hospital