A father goes against the grain

by Brian Clarey

The Guilford County Courthouse was aswirl with stories on election night — tough races and anxious candidates, adherents to opposing ideologies quartered in different sections of the room, has-beens, up-and-comers, jaded journos and greenhorns alike, as the election results scrolled on the big screen in real time.

I was there, to be sure — I’m always there on election night if I can swing it because quite simply it is the place to be in Guilford County when election results roll in.

Or, at least, it was. This year, the pickings for us notebook types was comparitively thin, with just a handful of candidates making appearances before bolting for somewhere else as the final numbers fell in.

No Theresa Yon or Trudy Wade. No Maggie Jeffus or Don Vaughan.

No BJ Barnes, no Marcus Brandon, no Brad Miller, no Jon Hardister.

Jordan Green faulted the increasing polarization of the two dominant political parties and their adherents, quipping, “They can’t even stand to be in the same room with each other this year.”

And so it was that, while succumbing to the dearth of bold-face names in the room, I happened to strike up a conversation with a bearded, besweatered man standing quietly, alone, in the row of gallery seats facing a monitor.

“I bet I’m the only registered Republican in the room who voted straight-ticket Democrat,” he said, to no one in particular.

I looked around. If no one else was going to bite, I certainly would.

I asked him why he was going against the GOP grain this time around. The man pulled two small woodscrews from his pants pocket and began fidgeting with them in his hands, twisting the threads against one another, looking at them to avert his eyes from mine.

“My son spent 17 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit,” was the first thing he said to me that night. Naturally I was floored.

His name is Ed Taylor, he told me, father of Greg Taylor, a name news-watchers might recognize as a central figure in the State Bureau of Investigation’s serology lab scandal. It was the younger Taylor’s case that alerted Attorney General Roy Cooper that something was amiss in North Carolina’s most powerful law enforcement organization.

Greg was convicted in 1993 for the murder of Raleigh prostitute Jacquetta Thomas after police found his abandoned vehicle in the vicinity of

her body. Taylor maintained that he and a friend had been smoking crack in the truck when it got stuck, and that they never saw the body nearby. He was convicted on evidence that the victim’s blood was on the door of his truck, evidence that proved to be false and kicked off the scandal which revealed that the SBI lab had employed faulty, if not fraudulent, systems in the collection and processing of evidence.

He was released in February of this year, after the NC Innocence Inquiry Commission unanimously voted that his case should be reviewed.

Greg was 31 years old when he first went to jail, 48 when he got out. His prime earning years were gone, evaporated in a miscarriage of justice, and the daughter he left behind is now a grown woman with children of her own.

“He never had a cell phone,” his father said to me. “Never even been in a Wal-Mart.”

And as he fiddled with those flat-head wood screws in his fingers, he told me about his own moment of political reckoning.

“I was a big Republican in the ’60s and ’70s,” he told me in the Guilford County Courthouse on Election Day, “because I figured that Democrats were responsible for all that racism and bigotry. I voted straight Republican ticket for a time, and then I started to wander.”

The experience with his son, he said, pushed him all the way to the other end of the spectrum.

“He was released largely through the efforts of [Rep.] Pricey [Harrison] and [Sen.] Don [Vaughan], so I’m definitely interested in their campaigns.”

And we watched the returns roll in for a while, watched Don Vaughan take his race and Pricey Harrison’s lead over challenger Jon Hardister grow by miniscule increments. Harrison’s race was far from decided when she stopped by the courthouse, but still she made time for my new friend Ed among all the gladhanders and backslappers before heading off to Natty Greene’s for what could have been either a victory party or a fond farewell.

Things turned out well for Harrison on Election Day, as they did for Vaughan. And the registered Republican who had pledged his loyalty to them couldn’t be blamed for thinking that after 17 long years, things were starting to swing his way.

*** Just a quick note here to announce that my new book, The Anxious Hipster and Other Barflies I’ve Known, will be coming out in December — just in time for Christmas. I’ll have more on the book, its contents and release in the coming weeks.