A man who was locked up for more than 40 years for starting a deadly fire at an Arizona hotel has walked free from prison after years of doubt about his conviction.
Louis Taylor was just 16 when he was arrested following the inferno which killed 29 people at the Pioneer Hotel in Tucson in December 1970.
“It’s a tale of two tragedies: the Pioneer Hotel fire and my conviction,” he told reporters gathered outside the prison.
Taylor, who turns 59 on Saturday, had faced a difficult choice in court in Tucson earlier in the day.
He could have continued his fight to fully clear his name or have entered a plea and got out of prison straightaway.
He chose to plead “no contest”, rather than wait another two to three years.
However, the deal negates his ability to sue the state for compensation.
That could have happened only if he had been exonerated at a new trial.
Taylor was sentenced to 28 consecutive life sentences but continually professed his innocence.
He contends he was wrongly convicted by an all-white jury, alleging police failed to investigate other suspects.
Reports at the time indicated Taylor was actually helping people escape the blaze before being arrested later that night.
Even the presiding judge expressed skepticism about the conviction.
Taylor’s lawyers believe they would have prevailed eventually at a new trial, but the process could have taken a long time.
Prosecutors still believe he is guilty, but said they would not be able to pursue a new conviction due to a lack of evidence and living witnesses.
The hotel fire was one of the worst in Arizona history.
Many guests were trapped in their rooms as the blaze engulfed the building.
The fire truck ladders were too short to reach the upper floors.
Some people jumped to their deaths while others burned in their rooms.
Most victims died from carbon monoxide poisoning.