Louis Taylor, freed after more than 40 years in prison: "It was shameful what they did"

(CBS News) A "60 Minutes" investigation first raised questions about Louis Taylor more than a decade ago. Convicted in the deaths of 28 people in a hotel fire, Taylor spent more than 40 years in prison -- but always declared his innocence.

Taylor was freed Tuesday after agreeing to plead no contest to the charges. Shortly after his release, he talked with CBS News' Bill Whitaker.

How a man held 42 years in hotel fire gained freedom
"60 Minutes": Arizona's Pioneer Hotel fire re-examined

'I'm just grateful to God, man, that I finally got out," Taylor said.

Whitaker talked with Taylor less than 24 hours after his release from prison. Free after four decades, he was full of conflicting emotions. "I did 41 years of my life for something I didn't do," he said. "It was shameful, it was shameful what they did to me."

After the Arizona Justice Project and "60 Minutes" found evidence of a shoddy arson investigation, jury tampering, racial bias, the Pima County district attorney offered a deal: freedom, if Taylor would plead no contest to the 28 counts of murder.

Asked why they didn't go forward with another trial to completely clear Taylor's name, Ed Novak, Taylor's attorney, said, "We would have done that, but the Pima County Attorney's Office said they'd fight the petition of relief all the way to the Supreme Court. It would have meant another two, three, four years of incarceration for Louis."

Taylor said he almost cried when he made the decision to plead no contest. "I didn't want to go against my principles but didn't have a choice," Taylor said. "How should I give them another minute, another hour, another decade in prison for something I didn't do? I wanted my freedom."

The night of the deadly Pioneer Hotel in 1970, he was called a hero for helping save lives.

"But they changed it all because of the color of my skin," Taylor said. "And they singled me out. How does that happen in America when we're supposed to have one of the best justice systems in the world? Can someone explain that to me? Nobody can explain that to me."

Asked what he plans to do now: "Live," he said, "just live."

Watch Bill Whitaker's full report in the video above.

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