Arresting detective speaks out on deadly Tucson hotel fire; Hearing Tues.

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

TUCSON,  Ariz. -- Louis Taylor, the man who spent 42 years in prison for setting the deadly Pioneer Hotel Fire in Tucson, is expected to be freed from prison soon.

Taylor has a hearing Tuesday morning to enter a plea to 28 counts of murder for the fire. In exchange, Taylor is expected to be sentenced to the time he has already served.

The December 1970 fire killed 29 people, including one victim who later died at a hospital. A then 16-year old Taylor was convicted of multiple arson and murder charges and sentenced to 28 concurrent life terms.

In October, attorneys with the Arizona Justice Project, a volunteer legal group that attempts to evaluate cases on behalf of inmates who believe they were wrongfully convicted, asked a court to dismiss the case or hold an evidentiary hearing.

New evidence suggested that the fire could have been caused by florescent lighting and was not arson. Attorneys also recently deposed the fire investigator in the case, Cy Holmes, and were able to discredit his testimony.

Fire instructor and former Tucson police detective David Smith arrested Taylor in 1970.

“At one point he yelled at me, ‘I didn’t want to kill those people.’ Since then I’ve discussed this numerous times and people have said, ‘couldn’t he have meant this, couldn’t he have meant that?’” said Smith.

Smith said that Taylor’s suspicious behavior on the day of the fire is part of what led to the arrest.

“He reached into the front of his jockey shorts and pulled out 5 books of matches and he smiled and handed them to me,” Smith said.

In light of the new evidence, and Tuesday’s hearing, Smith was asked if he thought Taylor was guilty, and he gave a somewhat vague answer.

“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Don’t confuse me with new facts.’ That’s certainly not the case,” said Smith.