Posted: Nov 1, 2012 6:26 PM by Erika Flores
Updated: Nov 1, 2012 6:42 PM
TUCSON-A fire that killed 29 people more than 40 years ago is resurfacing.
A group of attorneys is trying to get a new trial for the man sent away for setting it.
The fire broke out on the fourth floor of the Pioneer International Hotel on December 21, 1970.
It spread rapidly through open stairways catching many of the victims before they had a chance to escape.
Twenty-eight people were killed and at least two dozen more were injured.
Louis Taylor was convicted of setting the fire and was sent to prison.
Now Taylor is being represented by a group of attorneys claiming he was wrongfully convicted,
The hotel used to be at the corner of Stone and Pennington. That's where 42 years ago, people jumped out of windows falling to their death, and now, the man accused of starting the fire is petitioning for a retrial.
Flames shot out of windows and smoke engulfed the rooms.
"We heard the people screaming," said Jeanne Reilly, a witness.
Those trapped inside tied sheets together to escape.
Firefighters scrambled to rescue everyone they could.
"We saw them try to put the ladders up and we saw several people jump from the roof," said Reilly.
Al Pesqueira was a 21-year-old firefighter at the time.
"They had no choice. Either they burned or you jumped and that's pretty unfortunate," he said. "I had never seen anything like that before...the devastation...the deaths."
He couldn't help but choke up as he remembered that day.
"It just had a very bad impact on all of us," said Pesqueira.
Louis Taylor, was 16-years-old at the time and was arrested for allegedly starting the fire that led to these deaths.
"Louis Taylor is in fact innocent," said Michael Piccarreta.
Piccarreta is a Tucson defense attorney.
He is part of the group of lawyers working to prove Taylor did not start the fire.
"Fire science has improved a 100 fold since the time this case went to trial," said Piccarreta.
They've filed a petition claiming there is no physical evidence that the hotel fire was an act of arson.
The petition also claimed the only evidence against Taylor when he was booked was a tip from a man who said he saw a "negro boy" in the hotel.
That coupled with the various hypotheses Taylor offered during his all-night-interrogation landed him behind bars.
But the petition points out Taylor always maintained his innocence.
The group of attorneys was recruited by the Arizona Justice Project.
They review claims of innocence and try to overturn cases they believe were wrongfully convicted.
The group has filed the petition with the Pima County Attorney's office and is waiting to hear back on whether Taylor's case will be retried.
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