Questions arise over Pioneer Hotel fire that killed 29 people in 1970

Louis Taylor, who has always maintained his innocence, was convicted on 29 counts of murder and given life in prison. He was released in 2013.
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 7:48 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 27, 2023 at 7:49 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Louis Taylor was tried and convicted of setting a fire in the Pioneer Hotel in 1970, which killed 29 people.

To this day it is the worst fire tragedy in Tucson’s history.

Taylor was only 16 years old at the time.

He was released from prison six years ago after new technology suggested the fire may not have been arson at all, creating reasonable doubt.

Source: (Tucson Police)
Source: (Tucson Police)

Taylor has always maintained his innocence and apparently, Pima County Attorney Laura Conover felt the conviction may have been wrong as well.

In an unpublished draft editorial dated May 28, 2022, and filed in court Monday morning, Conover said after an exhaustive 17-month investigation, “I concluded that the Pima County Attorney’s Office could no longer support the criminal conviction against Taylor.”

She went on to write, “it was accepted (BUT WRONG) to allow race to be considered in the trial.” She described Taylor as a 16-year-old black boy who saved several lives that night but ended up being the suspect.

13 News’ Bud Foster I talked to Taylor in 2013.

Bud asked Taylor why he didn’t flee the scene.

“Nah, run away, for what? For what reason? I had no reason to run away,” Taylor said.

Three months after writing the editorial, Conover issued a news release that read “no further action will be taken” in the Taylor case. That’s a reversal from the draft op-ed three months earlier. It also came just one day after the Pima County Board of Supervisors held an hour-long executive session to discuss the case and its potential civil liabilities in the case.

“We have one executive session item,” Board Chair Sharon Bronson said after the board came back from behind closed doors. “I move we proceed as discussed in exec.”

But there was some confusion from board member Adelita Grijalva about what action the board was taking if any.

Bronson told her “we are just getting direction.”

Whether that direction had anything to do with the reversal is something Taylor’s attorneys are asking because an exoneration could increase the amount of money Taylor can ask for in a civil suit against the county.

The county is insured for that.

The attorneys are asking the Conover to be deposed to answer questions about her alleged change of mind.

13 News asked Conover about that and she sent the following response:

“The Pioneer Fire decision was excruciating and a close call. It involved robust debate among the Senior Leadership Council here at PCAO. I prepared draft comments for the decision to go either way. Arizona law only allows me to consider newly discovered evidence that might come to light after 2013, the last time a judgment was entered in the case. To date, this has not occurred.”