Edward Clayton Taylor spent 33 years in prison and 36 years believed to be a child rapist after he was convicted of raping 4-year-old Stephanie McIntyre Love in 1986.
Taylor, now 57, always maintained his innocent, even pointing out that at the time he had a 4-year-old daughter and would never do such a thing. His innocence didn’t matter, and he was convicted of child rape. The Florida parole board granted him in 2019, but a judge on Friday vacated his conviction, finally removing him from Florida’s sex offender registry.
“I want to relax. I want to breathe air as a free man,” Taylor told reporters after his conviction was overturned.
Love’s rape was only discovered after she told her mother that “her butt was sore,” and a doctor examination determined she had gonorrhea.
At the time of the investigation, 4-year-old Love told investigators that her friend’s father, whom she referred to as “Jermaine’s Daddy” was the man who raped her, but she also said Jermaine had either “two daddies” or “three daddies.” One of the men she incorrectly referred to was Taylor, who at the time was living with his mother and two brothers, all of whom were around the same age and looked similar.
The Florida Times-Union reported in other interviews, Love said the man who raped her was her friend’s “daddy” who was a neighbor. That friend’s father was Taylor, but he testified that his 18-year old uncle had “played house” with Love on his bunkbed. His testimony was not allowed at trial, First Coast News reported.
Love, who is white, was brought in and shown numerous photos of black men, including a photo of Taylor and one of his brothers, but not the other. As First Coast News reported, Taylor fell victim to “the (now well-documented) pitfalls of cross-racial eyewitness identification.” When Love was shown the photos, she told investigators that the men in the photos “all look the same to me. I can’t tell the difference between these men.”
Love’s identification was the only evidence used to convict Taylor. Love spoke on Taylor’s behalf at the hearing on Friday, saying she knows he didn’t rape her. She had also written a statement to the Florida Parole Commission and twice testified in support of releasing Taylor from prison.
“I was four years old, unsure and scared when I identified Edward Taylor,” she wrote in her statement to the parole board. “I felt very pressured by detectives and [others] to identify the perpetrator’s photo in the photo array that was shown to me.”
Medical records showed Taylor had never had gonorrhea, but his younger brother did. First Coast News reported that the younger brother, identified as Ithemas by the Times-Union, had been diagnosed with the venereal disease. Ithemas’ photo had not been included in the photos shown to Love. Ithemas, according to First Coast News, 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).”
Attorneys for the Innocence Project of Florida worked on overturning Taylor’s conviction, and were able to provide new evidence and show that prosecutors failed to turn over exculpatory evidence.