Louis Taylor savors freedom after 40 years in prison

During his interview with CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker, newly-freed Louis Taylor gets emotional in discussing his innocence in the 1970 Pioneer Hotel deaths.
CBS News

(CBS News) A "60 Minutes" investigation raised questions about the evidence that sent Louis Taylor to prison at age 16 for allegedly setting a Tucson hotel fire that killed 29 people. After four decades behind bars, Taylor was released Tuesday night in a deal that required him to plead no contest to the charges to avoid a retrial. One of the first things he did next was talk to CBS News.

Man convicted in Pioneer Hotel fire deaths, Louis Taylor, now a free man after 40 years
Freed prisoner Louis Taylor on Pioneer Hotel plea: "I had no choice"
"60 Minutes": Arizona's Pioneer Hotel fire re-examined

"It's precious," said Louis Taylor. "Freedom is precious."

Watch Louis Taylor speak to reporters following his plea deal:

Taylor is savoring his first 24 hours of freedom. We sat down for a face-to-face interview with Taylor and his attorney Ed Novak. His freedom is new, his emotions are raw.

"I did 41 years of my life for something I didn't do," he said. "It was shameful, shameful what they did to me."

Of the life he missed while he was in prison, Taylor said: "Yeah, I don't even know how to drive a car. It ain't supposed to happen in America. We're supposed to have the best justice system in the world. How did I fall in the cracks for 42 years?"

He's free, he said, because the Arizona Justice Project and "60 Minutes" uncovered evidence of a shoddy investigation, suppression of evidence and racial bias.

"The world knows I'm innocent," Taylor said. "They should know I'm innocent. I am innocent."

On April 2, 2013, Louis Taylor pled no contest in court to 28 counts of murder in the Pioneer Hotel fire and was released from prison after 40 years. CBS News

On Tuesday, Taylor pled no contest to 28 counts of murder and was immediately released. Proving his innocence would have required another trial. The Pima County prosecutor said his release doesn't mean exoneration. His conviction still stands.

So why not go forward with another trial and completely clear Taylor's name? "We would have done that," said attorney Novak, "but the Pima County attorney's office said they'd fight the petition for relief all the way to the Supreme Court. It would have been another 2,3,4 years of incarceration for Louis."

"I didn't want to go against my principles, but I had no choice," said Taylor."How should I give them another minute, another hour, another decade in prison for something i didn't do? (crying) I wanted my freedom."

In 1970 on the night of the Pioneer Hotel fire, 16-year-old Louis Taylor was helping people escape.

He was considered a hero that night, but Taylor said: "They changed it all, because of the color of my skin (crying). You know, I hate to say that, especially ... it was the little colored boy, that Negro boy.

"And they singled me out," he continued. "How does that happen in America? Can someone explain that to me? Nobody can explain that to me." (crying)

Taylor said he intends to spend the rest of his days living and doing good things.