A Salt Lake man charged with the murder 20 years ago of a Vernal man was released from the Uintah County Jail on Friday after lab tests revealed he may not have been present during the incident.
Willard Dale Taylor, 52, was released on his own recognizance after prosecuting attorney Harry Souvall told 8th District Judge John Anderson that new evidence brought substantial doubt to Taylor's connection with the death of Gregory Dahl Nickell, then 19.Souvall said the DNA extracted from Taylor's blood sample did not match semen samples taken from clothing worn by a female witness who was raped by the alleged killer and his accomplice.
"Therefore at this point we can assume that Willard Dale Taylor is not the murderer," Souvall said.
Souvall said, however, it is possible that the evidence could have been mixed up with another case, and charges will stand until a second test has been completed.
"When something sits in an evidence room for 20 years, you can't be sure," he said. "If we get another test that turns up the same conclusion as the first, the only inescapable conclusion is that Taylor's not our man."
Early Nov. 26, 1972, Nickell was shot several times, and his body and car later were set on fire.
The 20-year unsolved case was reopened earlier this year by Uintah County Sheriff Lloyd Meacham after an unnoticed file containing a statement from Taylor's stepdaughter saying Taylor told her he burned a man in his car after shooting him to death was discovered.
Taylor was put under arrest at his Rose Park home Aug. 13 and bound over for arraignment on first-degree homicide charges after a two-day preliminary hearing.