JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville man who spent 33 years behind bars was wrongfully convicted of child rape, a judge agreed on Friday.
At a dramatic but brief hearing, Edward Clayton Taylor’s 1986 conviction was vacated based on the fact that prosecutors at the time failed to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence.
Taylor was previously released from prison by the Florida parole board 2019, but the judge’s decision removes his name from Florida’s sex offender registry.
The now-adult victim, who agreed to be identified, spoke on Taylor’s behalf, saying she is certain that Taylor was not her assailant. Stephanie Love was four at the time of the assault. She believes she misidentified Taylor in a process that involved since-repudiated identification practices, and intense pressure from police, prosecutors and other adults.
“I was four years old, unsure and scared when I identified Edward Taylor,” she wrote in a statement to the Florida Parole Commission, where she also testified twice in support of his release. “I felt very pressured by detectives and [others] to identify the perpetrator's photo in the photo array that was shown to me.”
She said she believes that the flawed identification process was complicated by her age and the (now well-documented) pitfalls of cross-racial eyewitness identification. At the time, she told investigators the Black men in the photos, “all look the same to me. I can’t tell the difference between these men.”
Stephanie’s identification of Taylor was the only evidence against him.
Taylor has always maintained his innocence. In a statement written May 16, 1986, the day of his arrest, he wrote, “I, Edward Taylor, didn’t do this. I think this is absurd. I have a child, 4 years old, I could never do something like this. I am innocent. End of Statement.”
Attorneys for the Innocence Project of Florida presented multiple reasons Taylor’s conviction should be overturned, including new evidence and prosecutors’ failure* to turn over key evidence suggestive of other potential suspects.
Specifically, the original file contained notes from two different investigators that showed that although the 4-year-old girl had identified her playmate’s father – “Jermaine’s Daddy” -- as the perpetrator, she repeatedly said that Jermaine had either “two daddies” or “three daddies.” At the time Taylor lived with his mother and two brothers. All three men were close in age and appearance.
Taylor’s attorneys also pointed out a significant medical inconsistency: the child’s assault was discovered only because she contracted gonorrhea, which medical records show Taylor never had. His younger brother did have that venereal disease in 1986, however, something he admits. The brother** was later arrested for sexually molesting four young girls in Brunswick, Ga. in a similar fashion. (He was not prosecuted in that case, but is currently serving a life sentence for armed robbery).
Stephanie’s playmate, Jermaine, also identified his 18-year-old uncle as the man who “played house” with Stephanie on his bunkbed, though his testimony wasn’t allowed at trial.
In their motion to vacate Taylor’s conviction, his attorneys said that when interviewed by case investigators “to discuss the mountain of evidence suggesting he was the true perpetrator,” the brother didn’t deny he was responsible and stated that Taylor was innocent (“state fuc*ed up”), but also refused to accept the blame for the crime. According to investigators, he told them, “I can’t admit to it.”
Today's decision is the second major conviction reversal since the creation of the State Attorney's Conviction Integrity Review division, created by State Attorney Melissa Nelson. The first was in 2019.
* Those notes, which were not turned over to Taylor’s defense attorney in 1986, were also not given to the Innocence Project in 2010 when they requested the case file. State Attorney Angela Corey, who prosecuted the case, was in charge of the office on both occasions. She did not respond in the court record, but in a 2010 letter to he Innocence Project, an assistant state attorney denied their assertion that the “scant” records they were given to review were incomplete. “Your assumptions and inferences are just that and have no legal basis or justification,” she wrote. “Your employees were permitted to inspect an an all … reports that were in my possession.”
**First Coast News is not naming the brother because he has not been charged in this case.