But the young man changed his story multiple times.
It made officers suspicious: Maybe it was arson; maybe it was Taylor who started the fire.
Journalist Crellin and KVOA kept up with the case.
Taylor told him that "he had some very tough interviews with the police." He was innocent, he said, a stance he has always maintained.
In an interview on the 25th anniversary of the fire, he told the broadcaster that the fire never goes out of his head.
"I think about it all the time, because I know in my heart and God knows that they got the wrong person. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Prosecutors called two witnesses who were in juvenile detention with Taylor. They told the court that Taylor confessed to the crime to them behind bars.
Later, one of the boys said he had been coerced into his testimony and that it was false, according to court documents.
Experts for the prosecution and the defense testified that the fire, in their opinion, was caused by arson, though the details of their explanations differed.
In the end, Taylor was convicted of 28 counts of felony murder.
Judge Charles Hardy, who presided over the case, told Taylor that he didn't believe he meant to hurt anyone. But the punishment was stiff: "the rest of his natural life in prison," a sentence that at the time did not officially exist in the state of Arizona, a court document said.
Decades later, people involved in the conviction and sentencing began to feel bad about the case.
The CBS investigative magazine "60 Minutes" took up the case.
The judge told the program that, looking back, he would not have voted to convict.
The evidence, he said, was not strong enough. And if the then-teenager did set the fire, it was not Taylor's fault that the hotel was poorly suited to deal with any kind of fire.
Lawyers from the Arizona Justice Project got involved.
The non-profit reviews cases it feels don't live up to just legal standards.
"It is our mission to help assure that Arizona's prisons are not housing those actually innocent of crime or otherwise victims of manifest injustice," reads the mission statement on its website.
The lawyers encouraged the state to review the arson testimony in the original trial based on modern methods.
Two review committees determined that there is no longer enough evidence available to tell whether arson was in play.
They said that the experts in the original trial "used methods no longer valid in the science of today."
One of the original trial experts, Cy Holmes, still a fire investigator four decades later, still stands by his testimony today, a court memorandum filed Monday said. But his testimony can't pin it on Taylor.