Officer who arrested man in 1970 Pioneer fire speaks out - Tucson News Now

Officer who arrested man in 1970 Pioneer fire speaks out

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David Smith David Smith
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A man who has spent more than four decades in prison for a Tucson hotel fire that killed 29 people, including some who jumped from windows to escape the searing heat, is expected to be released Tuesday as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Louis Taylor was convicted as a teen and has maintained his innocence in the December 1970 fire at the Pioneer Hotel.

The Tucson police detective who arrested Taylor the day after the blaze is David Smith, who is  now a fire instructor who runs a consulting firm in Bisbee. 

"At one point he yelled at me 'I didn't want to kill those people.'  Since then, you know, I've discussed this numerous times and people have said couldn't he have meant this or could he have meant that," says Smith. 

He says Taylor made some suspicious statements at the time, which led to his arrest.  Taylor apparently suggested others started the deadly fire.

"I said who did and he says it was as black kid and two Mexican kids, and I said how do you know they did it?  And he said because they looked me in the eye and I saw that they did it."

Smith admits arson investigations have changed since the Pioneer fire.  He says there is more science involved.

"If you saw window glass that was crazed meaning tiny spider webs, that meant it was a very hot and fast fire.  Wait a minute, crazed glass is caused by rapid cooling not rapid heat," says Smith.

Smith now works with a group called the Innocence Project which helps clear the names of the wrongly convicted.  Years ago Innocence Project asked him to review a 1992 Texas arson case.  Smith used his skills in arson investigation to prove the man who was executed did not start the fire in that case.

"I can't fathom being in prison let alone being in prison for something that I didn't do."

All things considered, Smith says he has an open mind when it comes to innocence and guilt.  He says it's possible Taylor did not start the fire back in 1970.

"I'm certainly not going to sit here and say don't confuse me with facts, I know what happened, because that's certainly not the case."

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