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Man convicted in deadly 1970 Arizona fire is freed

TUCSON — A man who spent more than 40 years in prison for a 1970 hotel fire that killed 29 people agreed to a deal with prosecutors Tuesday that cleared the way for him to be released after his conviction was called into question.

The plea deal marks a stunning reversal for Louis Taylor, who was 16 years old when he was arrested in the fire at the Pioneer Hotel in Tucson, where employees of an aircraft company were celebrating at a Christmas party.

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Taylor, 59, showed no visible reaction as he accepted the deal and said ‘‘no contest’’ 28 different times, for each murder count leveled against him. When it was all finished, Superior Court Judge Richard Fields said, ‘‘Welcome back, Mr. Taylor.’’ He was released from prison later Tuesday.

Taylor was sentenced to 28 consecutive life sentences and repeatedly has maintained his innocence. Taylor, who is black, contends he was wrongly convicted by an all-white jury after , he alleged, police failed to investigate other suspects. Reports at the time indicated Taylor was helping people escape the blaze before being arrested later that night.

Reports in 2002 by CBS’ ‘‘60 Minutes’’ raised questions about whether the fire was, in fact, arson.

Prosecutors still believe that Taylor is guilty, but said they would not be able to pursue a new trial due to a lack of evidence and living witnesses.

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