Man convicted in 1986 sexual assault of 4-year-old girl exonerated after wrongful conviction

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A man convicted to life in prison for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old in 1986 has been exonerated after it was determined he was wrongly convicted.

Edward Taylor, now 57, spent 33 years in prison.

In 2019, he was released from prison on parole but was still registered as a sex offender.

“I waited for this day it seems like all my life,” Taylor said. “Certainly all my adult life. This is a glorious moment. Praise be to God.”

Back in 2016, the Innocence Project of Florida took a closer look at his case.

The group investigates wrongful convictions and filed a motion to vacate Taylor’s conviction and sentence.

Taylor and the victim in the case, Stephanie Love, formally asked the court for post-conviction relief Friday.

“The court will vacate Mr. Edward C. Taylor’s conviction for the sexual assault he was convicted of,” the judge read Friday.

Because there was no physical evidence linking Taylor to the crime, it was concluded by the court that Love misidentified Taylor when she was four.

Love tested positive for gonorrhea in 1986, something records show Taylor never had.

However, Taylor’s brother admitted to investigators that he had previously been treated for gonorrhea and lived with his mother at the time of Love’s sexual battery.

Still, it was Taylor who was arrested and charged with the child sex crime and convicted.

Love, who was four at the time, was also in the courtroom Friday and says she misidentified Taylor. She told the court that an alternative suspect, Taylor’s brother, is the one who sexually assaulted her.

“At the time this crime occurred as a small child, unfortunately, these two men looked extraordinarily similar to me,” Love shared with the courtroom.

She said she felt pressured by police and her parents to choose an image from a photo spread when she was only four.

Records show that Taylor’s brother is serving a life sentence for armed robbery in Georgia.

When interviewed in prison, Taylor’s brother told investigators that he knew Taylor was innocent and did not deny molesting Love.

“I am so thankful to her because she came forward,” Taylor’s mother, Agnes Anderson, said. “She came all that way to help us get here.”

Anderson described how she’s navigated watching her son endure the wrongful conviction.

“It’s been hard,” Anderson said. “It’s been sleepless nights and days— trips all over the state of Florida. I relied on the Innocence Project. Then through the Innocence Project, Stephanie came forward. What more could a mother ask for?”

Taylor thanked God, his mother, the Innocence Project of Florida, the State Attorney’s Office and Stephanie for allowing him to make it to this point.

“I’ve had dreams and woke up crying because the dream wasn’t true, still in a prison cell for a crime I didn’t do,” Taylor said. “But now it’s actually happened. I’ve pinched myself a number of times to make sure I’m not still dreaming.”

Taylor has also been removed from the Florida Sex Offender Registry.

“I want to live life as a free man,” Taylor said. “I just want to be me, and it’s okay. I’m not looked at— I just want to live. I’m going to live. I’m claiming that.”

Love said she’s glad she spoke up. She shared one piece of change she hopes to see in the criminal justice system.

“There needs to be more studies on how to communicate with children,” Love said. “People need to be more open-minded to revisiting these types of crimes and remove the stigma of sexual violence. I think if people spoke more freely about sexual violence, considering a lot of people do experience it, it could prevent misidentification.”

When asked if compensation would be sought for the decades of time Taylor missed out on, the Innocence Project of Florida says that will be discussed at a later time.

“For all of those who are falsely convicted in prison, hold on,” Taylor said. “Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. It may get hard. You may get stressed, tired, or weary. But don’t give up ever.”