Greg Taylor of Cary always has said he is innocent of the September, 1991 murder of Raleigh prostitute Jacquetta Thomas, 26, whose body was found dumped on South Blount Street.
Now, a three-judge panel is hearing his claims 17 years after his conviction.
Taylor, 47, said he spent the night of September 25, 1991 drinking and doing drugs with friends while he drove around southeast Raleigh to buy crack cocaine.
Taylor said he believed police latched on to him for the murder because he and a friend drove along a dirt path off the same cul de sac where Thomas's body was found. Taylor and the friend smoked crack, but the truck got stuck as they tried to drive away. They abandoned the truck and walked away.
Taylor testified they saw that they thought was a body but didn't report it to police. When Taylor returned in the morning to get the truck, the police were already there.
Taylor has steadfastly denied killing Thomas.
"Did you cut her throat?" defense attorney Joe Cheshire asked Taylor.
"No," he replied.
"Did you use a blunt instrument to hit her in the throat and head?" Cheshire asked.
"No," he replied again.
Cheshire has focused on what he described as a lack of physical evidence against his client and the police interrogation, during which Taylor was told "you can be a witness or you can be a defendant."
Another man has testified to the North Carolina Innocence Commission that he killed Thomas. That man is state prisoner 399868, Craig Taylor. His name is very similar to Greg Taylor's.
Craig Taylor initially told an investigator for the Innocence Commission that he shot Jaquetta Thomas twice in the head, but an autopsy showed she was killed by a blow to the head.
Although the commission found enough evidence to warrant a review of the case, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has said that he's skeptical of Craig Taylor's confession, partly because he's confessed to almost 70 other crimes.
"He is both physically sick and mentally ill, and I think that he was exploited," Willoughby said.
Willoughby did not give an opening argument at the hearing, which is expected to last two or three days.
North Carolina is the only state with a government agency dedicated to verifying claims of innocence.