Six weeks ago, Willard Dale Taylor was thrown in jail for a 20-year-old murder. But that wasn't the worst of it.
Scarier than the day-to-day existence in the Uintah County Jail, he said, was when he was released, alone and without a ride home, in a town where most residents considered him a killer."When I got out of jail, an inmate told me, `If I were you, you better not walk around this town,' " Taylor said Saturday, the day after he was released. "I was scared more then than anytime."
Taylor, 52, made it home, where he was welcomed by his two sons, his mother and a freshly baked cherry pie. He acknowledges he owes his freedom to a technology he does not understand.
He was arrested last month after Uintah County Sheriff Lloyd Mecham said he had uncovered new evidence in the unsolved 1972 shooting death of Gregory Nickell.
He was charged with shooting Nickell over a $5,000 drug debt and then burning the body. The killer and a friend also raped the man's 18-year-old girlfriend.
The woman's pants, bearing semen stains, had been held in evidence for two decades. Pros-ecutors obtained a search warrant and took blood samples from Taylor, hoping to match genetic material from the blood to DNA in the semen and thus proving Taylor the assailant.
Instead, the DNA tests exonerated him. Taylor was not the man who raped the woman and killed Nickell.
"They told me that this is supposed to be some new technique that is very accurate," he said. "So I told them to take my blood out of both veins because I know I didn't do it."
Uintah County Attorney Harry Souvall said he will likely dismiss the murder charge as soon as the test is verified. In the meantime, Taylor is a free man.
"I feel relieved - vindicated in the system," he said. "I'm glad and, hopefully, it's all over. It's the first night I slept in a long time."
"We felt he should have been released all along because we knew he had never been in Vernal in all his life," said Taylor's mother, Iola Taylor. "It was hard, but you have to go on living the best you can."
Life in the Uintah County Jail was "like a nightmare," Taylor said, mostly because everybody assumed he was guilty.
"The whole town was in an uproar," he said.
For now, Taylor wants to get on with his life. His wife wants a divorce, but he's relying on his sons and mother for support. He will also be able to get his job back when the charges are dropped.