State v. Taylor

Citation537 P.2d 938,112 Ariz. 68
Decision Date08 July 1975
Docket NumberNo. 2500,2500
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee and Cross-Appellant, v. Louis C. TAYLOR, Appellant and Cross-Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of Arizona
Gary K. Nelson, former Atty. Gen., Bruce E. Babbitt, Atty. Gen., Phoenix, Dennis W. DeConcini, Pima County Atty., by Horton C. Weiss, Special Deputy County Atty., Tucson, for appellee/cross-appellant

Howard A. Kashman, Tucson, for appellant/cross-appellee.

HAYS, Justice.

Louis C. Taylor, a minor, was convicted of twenty-eight counts of first degree murder in violation of A.R.S. §§ 13--451, 13--452 and 13--453 and sentenced on each count to life imprisonment. From the convictions and sentences he appeals.

The voluminous transcript accumulated through the various stages of this prosecution relates in detail the horrifying sequence of events which transpired at the Pioneer International Hotel in Tucson the evening of December 19 and morning of December 20, 1970, and which resulted in the deaths of twenty-eight persons and injury to many others. The Pioneer Hotel, a Tucson landmark since 1932, was packed with 111 guests plus several unregistered children and private nurses. The guests, many of them Mexican nationals in Tucson to do Christmas shopping, occupied sixty-six rooms on floors three through eleven, while an additional three hundred to five hundred employees of Hughes Aircraft Corporation attended a Christmas dance in the International Ballroom on the mezzanine (second floor) level.

Any attempt at summarizing the facts is aggravated not only by the enormity of the record, which includes over ten thousand pages of transcript, but also by conflicting testimony caused by the inability of numberous witnesses accurately to recall the exact time and order of events during the few hectic hours at issue in this case. This latter[112 Ariz. 72]

complicating factor is reflected in the testimony of several key witnesses, most of whom testified on several occasions as this case worked its way through a detention hearing, transfer hearing, preliminary hearing, pretrial motions, trial, and new trial hearing. Several witnesses testified more than once at the same hearing. In addition, the appellant's rendition of his activity that night and the manner in which he was handled by the police is in conflict with the testimony of the various police officers and others with whom he came in contact

Our analysis of the record produces the following chronicle: As Frank Armenta, a former employee of the Pima County Juvenile Court Center, passed the intersection of Church and Alameda in downtown Tucson around 5:00 p.m. on December 19, 1970, he swung his car around upon seeing Louis Taylor, a former immate at the Juvenile Center. A ten- to fifteen-minute conversation ensued during which the defendant declined a lift from Armenta, explaining he was on his way to the Pioneer where he was working as a busboy. Instead of proceeding to the hotel, however, Taylor went to several residences in search of a friend, eventually winding up with other friends at the Esquire Bar around 8:00 p.m. From there he went next door to a pool hall, then to the nearby Manhattan Bar, back to the pool hall, over to the Greyhound Bus Depot, back to the Esquire Bar, and finally to the Pioneer Hotel between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m.

Once in the hotel, the appellant headed towards the International and Terrace Ballroom areas. After observing the Hughes Christmas party for fifteen to twenty minutes, the appellant left the dance area and seated himself on a hallway stool. Rodney Dingle, a Hughes employee attending the party, testified he encountered the defendant between 11:00 and 11:45 p.m. in the hallway while searching for cigarettes. After directing Dingle to a nearby machine and then borrowing a cigarette, Taylor declined a light, stating 'No, I have a book of matches.'

Exactly when the fire started is a matter of great dispute. Both parties agree to its origin in the north-south hallway of the fourth floor, although one of the state's experts cited the third to fourth floor north staircase as an additional area of origin. The testimony as to when the fire was first detected runs generally from midnight to 12:05 a.m. The firemen arrived about 12:23 a.m. which is known from radio logs.

The combination of testimony from experts for both sides as to the burning characteristics of the carpet and testimony from hotel guests indicates a strong probability ignition occurred between 11:40 and 11:55 p.m., depending upon the amount of accelerants used, if any. The record indicates that earlier ignition of the carpet in conjunction with the heavy toxic smoke produced would have resulted in correspondingly earlier detection by hotel guests.

The first notice hotel personnel on the lobby level had of the fire was when an Old Pioneer Club busboy rushed through the main entrance at about 12:10--12:15 a.m. and informed the desk clerk that a man was yelling 'fire' from an upper-floor window on the Stone Avenue side. Immediately after this, at 12:15 a.m., the desk clerk received a call on the switchboard from a lady in a third- or fourth-floor room who stated she smelled smoke in her room and thought there was a fire on the third floor. A bellman was then dispatched to investigate in the company of David Johnson, a custodian who overheard the conversation. Soon after leaving the elevator at the south end of the third floor north-south hallway, smoke forced the bellman to retreat because of a respiratory condition. He returned downstairs and reported the seriousness of the fire to the desk clerk who in turn called the fire department at approximately 12:20.

[112 Ariz. 73]

Meanwhile, Johnson had headed north in the third-floor hallway until he encountered Taylor standing alongside the north staircase looking up at the flaming stairs and fourth-floor landing. Taylor continued to merely observe the developing holocaust as Johnson, with limited effectiveness, tried to combat the raging fire with a fire extinguisher from a nearby cabinet. When the contents of the extinguisher were exhausted, Johnson raced down to the nezzanine-level bar area in search of additional extinguishers. There, he met Giles Scoggins, the hotel beverage manager, who directed him to nearby extinguishers and then followed Johnson as he returned to the third floor north staircase

Upon arrival Johnson dropped the two extinguishers he was carrying and unsuccessfully attempted to operate a kinked fire hose the appellant had apparently pulled out of a nearby wall cabinet. At this point Scoggins arrived, whereupon Taylor exclaimed 'I saw two colored boys with African hairdos and they were fighting and they started the fire.' Scoggins testified that he subsequently was able to unkink and use the fire hose but that it had little or no effect on the ceiling-high flames. This lack of success and an explosion-like sound caused the abandonment of fire-fighting efforts.

The next two hours saw the deaths of helpless upper-floor guests as the result of falling, jumping, asphyxiation, and burns. The appellant, along with numerous other civilians, aided to a disputed degree in rescue efforts directed by the Tucson Police and Fire Departments.

At approximately 2:00--2:10 a.m. Scoggins approached Officer Sedlymeyer at police operations headquarters in the street southwest of the hotel and informed him that a black youth present at the early stages of the fire had claimed to have seen two other youths set the fire. Two detectives and then two uniformed officers elicited further details and then the latter two officers helped Scoggins search in and around the hotel.

At about 2:35--2:40 a.m. Taylor, wearing a white busboy jacket, was spotted by Scoggins near the ramp entrance to the third-floor roof area in the northeast section of the hotel. The appellant immediately removed this jacket and approached one of the officers, Lewis Adams, who was looking in third-floor rooms. He tapped Adams on the shoulder and stated 'There are seven boys on the seventh floor or eighth floor running around and they don't belong there.' Adams then proceeded to follow the appellant partially up the staircase towards the fourth floor until Scoggins called the officer aside the remarked that 'that's the boy we are looking for.' Adams testified that the appellant responded 'sure' he would accompany him and his companion, Officer Carstensen, outside. While walking downstairs, Taylor stated 'It's awful that somebody would set a fire like that.'

Adams then reported to his supervisor at the intersection command post, Sgt. Alfred Lingham, that he had found the individual to whom the manager had referred. Lingham testified that the officer told him that the individual was agreeable to making a statement. At 2:41 a.m. Sgt. Lingham radioed police headquarters that 'Officer Adams will be en route to the station with a subject we need a statement from.'

After a one-block walk to Adams' vehicle, the appellant asked 'You want me to sit in the back seat?' The officer responded 'No. I don't see any reason for you to have to sit in the back seat. You are not under arrest. You can sit up front. Well I don't know you. I want to search you for my own protection.' Adams then conducted a 'patdown' search after which they proceeded to the police station.

Upon entering the station at approximately 2:44 a.m., the officer told Taylor to 'have a seat' in the coffee room. Adams then briefed Desk Sgt. Kenneth Krieger, who in turn said he would get detectives.

[112 Ariz. 74]

After entering the coffee room, a Sgt. Rossetti, who had had previous contacts with appellant, asked the appellant, who was seated in the room with three to five police officers, whether he recognized him (Rossetti) and 'how he had occasion to be at the Pioneer Hotel.' Taylor stated that he did not recognize the sergeant and that he had gone to the hotel around 10:00 p.m. to see a...

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