At 17, Daniel Taylor was sentenced to life in prison for a double murder he did not commit. Police records prove that he was locked up at the time of the murders, but Daniel was beaten into a false confession that would keep him behind bars for two decades. Twelve years ago, the evidence resurfaced. Steve Mills, a Chicago Tribune investigative reporter, began to write about Daniel's case. Lawyers from Northwestern University Law School's Center for Wrongful Convictions began to work on Daniel's behalf. At 37, Daniel is now an exonerated man, but is he really free?
Please visit the Chicago Tribune's website for a collection of all the articles written about Daniel for the last twelve years.
Below is a brief recount of my personal journey with Daniel and David in my last month here in Chicago.
I met Daniel Taylor on the evening of June 28th, 2013 in a little cafe in Menard, Ill. The reporter, Steve Mills, and I drove the six hours of long, flat highway that stood between Chicago and Daniel as quickly as we could. We knew we did not have much time and that we really needed to be there for his release. The phone rings with an hour of driving left. Daniel had been released and almost immediately kicked off the Menard Correctional Center premises. David, his brother, had beat us down there with his girlfriend, "Pink", at the wheel.
David met Pink while he was visiting Daniel in prison. The two of them had a beautiful daughter, Danielle, 2, while Daniel was still incarcerated. She is named for Daniel. Ultimately, Daniel and David have ended up responsible for the care of Danielle, even though David is unemployed and Daniel's record has yet to be expunged.
The next time I saw Daniel was on the 4th of July. I stood on a street in the South Side of Chicago with smoke wafting from the grill, pops of firecrackers going off down the block, the screams of children bickering, police sirens wailing past. There stood Daniel in the center of it all, completely silent. He just looked down around him at the chaos, every one of his senses overstimulated, taking it all in. He looked completely overwhelmed, so I went over and asked if he was okay. He just looked at me quietly, almost sadly, for a minute until the beginnings of a smile appeared in his damp eyes and he said, "I just don't know what to do with all this freedom." To which I responded, "Well, it is Independence Day."
For a while, Daniel would not let me go to David's house, where Daniel lived with David, Pink, Danielle, and a few other children. I thought that I just had not gained their trust enough. I thought that perhaps Daniel had realized he was free and did not have to have me around. The truth ended up being that Daniel was being protective of me. Eventually, we worked it out that I could come at dawn and stay until the gangs started gathering on the steps of the evicted homes that sandwiched Daniel and David's place. One morning I stayed a bit too late. As I walked out of David's house with Daniel, I witnessed precisely why Daniel was being so careful.
Daniel knew that he needed to get himself, Danielle, and David out of that situation as quickly as possible. Soon after, an anonymous donor gave him 6 months worth of rent for an apartment in Evanston, a very safe North Side suburb. The day he went to visit the apartment with his brother, he was overcome. He said, "I finally feel like a man."
Happy to have a new, safe place for his brother and niece, he began to move in. Most of their new belongings came from Margaret Rosetta, a woman who had also been incarcerated and had died a week prior to Daniel's move. According to her close friend, Becky Frank, "Margaret contributed all of her time and effort to helping people get back on their feet."
I returned to their apartment one day recently just to hang out and see how they were doing. One of David's other daughters, who lives in Milwaukee, had come to visit. When I watch Daniel around his two nieces and his brother, I can see how huge his heart is. Of his future he said, "I want to keep life simple, I don’t want to complicate it, I don’t want to do too much, I don’t want to be this hotshot, none of that. I just want to enjoy life with David Taylor, right here, that’s it."
Daniel and David's relationship is an incredible thing. During the two decades Daniel was in jail, David would purposefully get arrested so he would have the chance to be with his brother. "The normal fear of going to jail, he didn’t have," Daniel said. "Figuring out why he come to jail so much, I got angry."
Prior to Daniel's incarceration at 17, Daniel and David had been in foster homes through the Department of Children and Family Services, because of their mother's drug and alcohol addictions.
"Me and my brother was forced to live a life we didn’t want to live," David said. "It ain't like we chose to 'Oh we fittin’ to hang in the streets and gang bang and disobey any law or anything any adult had to say to us,' naw it weren’t like that. But when you're having issues at home with your family at a young age, you might as well leave then and see what you can find in the streets."
"We’re tired of trouble," David said. "We’re tired of jails. We're tired of the police stations, the back of the police cars, the handcuffs. Man, he did it for twenty years, the handcuffs and all that, so its time to live life and be free."
I owe all of the wonderful editors at the Tribune a huge thank you for their support, guidance, and patience throughout this project. All photos are Copyright Chicago Tribune.