Louis Taylor's lawyer speaks out on eve of his release

"I've maintained in my mind that he's been innocent from day one," says Howard Kashman, the Pima County Public Defender in 1970.

In the early morning of December 20, 1970, Kashman received a phone call saying "you'd better get down here, we have a kid in custody for the fire in the Pioneer Hotel."

Kashman had not heard about the fire yet but when he arrived, 16 year old Louis Taylor had already been grilled by the police and fire department for several hours without a lawyer, parent or guardian present, a violation of the law.

"They overpowered him throughout the nigh to get him to say what they wanted him to say," Kashman says. "They'd say anything to keep him off balance."

But what was said during those long hours of interrogation was not recorded nor were there any notes.

"It was just their memories," he says.

By then, they were sure Taylor set the fire and was responsible for the deaths of 28 people who died in the fire that night. Another died months later.

"I think he was railroaded," Kashman says. "I think they took advantage of a teen who had a rather bleak past felony wise."

Taylor had been in and out of juvenile detention several times by his 16th birthday.

He also carried several books of matches with him at the time of his arrest.

"He was a smoker," says Kashman, "He was a street kid."

It was not uncommon at the time for people to carry matches to light cigarettes "but there was no evidence the fire was started with matches."

The fire department tried to replicate the fire using book matches several times without success.

"They couldn't start it with matches so how would they expect Taylor to start it with matches," he says.

No evidence was found at the scene which would indicate a matchbook or matches started the blaze.

Taylor lived with Kashman during the seven week trial which was held in Phoenix.

They would drive back and forth every weekend.

"I knew that kid," says Kashman.

He was stunned by the verdict.

"Well, I have to say I was shocked  because there was no evidence to that fire that was beliveable." says Kashman.

Kashman says that while the jury was an all white jury, he did not think at the time it might have anything to do with race.

But he was concerned about the practices of the prosecution.

The prosecutors office, he says, withheld evidence that he should have had and might have turned the case.

"I was frustrated because during the trial and pre-trial the prosecution was taking steps that were unprofessional and after the fact by the way, that were highly illegal," he says.

There is a hearing in Superior Court tomorrow in which Taylor is expected to agree to a plea deal which will set him free but he must admit guilt.

"He's always maintained his innocence,." Kashman says.

Taylor was reluctant to sign the deal but was advised by another group of lawyers to do so.