Leonard Taylor’s lawyers say Missouri executed him before appeal ended, call for probe

Nick Wagner/nwagner@kcstar.com

Attorneys for Leonard Taylor, who was executed Tuesday, are calling for an investigation after they say Missouri put him to death while a final appeal was pending.

The lawyers claimed Missouri carried out the execution before Taylor exhausted his appeal in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. They urged the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Corrections, as well as other agencies, to find out how and why Taylor’s death sentence was carried out and determine who was responsible.

“With last night’s execution of Leonard Raheem Taylor by the state of Missouri, a constitutionally intolerable event took place,” Taylor’s lawyers, including Kansas City-based Kent Gipson, said Wednesday.

Taylor, 58, was executed Tuesday evening at the Bonne Terre prison for the 2004 quadruple murder of his girlfriend, Angela Rowe, and her three children, who ranged in age from 5 to 10. They were found shot in their home in Jennings, near St. Louis.

Weeks ago, Taylor said he did not want any witnesses present at the execution. That changed over the weekend, his attorney Kevin Schriener said, and Taylor requested his spiritual advisor Anthony Shahid be present with him in the execution chamber.

The Department of Corrections rejected the request, saying it was too late to make the accommodation. Taylor’s attorneys on Tuesday filed a motion before the Missouri Supreme Court, citing a state statute that says a prisoner can have five people present. The U.S. Supreme Court has also ruled that states must accommodate the wishes of condemned prisoners who want to have their pastors pray aloud and touch them during their executions.

The motion was denied.

On Tuesday night at the Bonne Terre prison, Karen Pojmann, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said the agency was alerted at 5:52 p.m. that all of Taylor’s petitions had been denied and that its employees could “begin the execution sequence.”

At 6:01 p.m., Taylor’s legal team emailed the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office notifying them they were going to appeal, Schriener said.

At 6:05 p.m., Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey notified DOC “there were no legal impediments” to Taylor’s execution, Pojmann told reporters. Gov. Mike Parson’s office was then asked if there was any reason to not execute Taylor, and the answer was “to proceed,” Pojmann said.

By 6:07 p.m., the executioners started administering the drug pentobarbital into Taylor.

In a federal appeals court, Taylor’s case was docketed at 6:18 p.m. Tuesday, records show. Taylor, however, was pronounced dead just minutes before, at 6:16 p.m. His appeal was administratively closed the next day, following an entry that said: “Prisoner Executed.”

“At least they should have let it play out,” Schriener said.

Gipson said he thought it was ridiculous especially since the death warrant was in effect for 24 hours, which would have given the court time to make a ruling.

The Department of Corrections directed questions to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

“As there was no stay in place, the Attorney General’s Office fulfilled its legal obligation to notify the Governor’s Office and the Department of Corrections at the appropriate time that that was no legal impediment to carrying out the execution warrant set forth by the Missouri Supreme Court,” said Madeline Sieren, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office.

Taylor’s case

In 2008, a jury convicted Taylor of four counts of first-degree murder and four counts of armed criminal action. He maintained until his death that he was innocent, claiming he was halfway across the country when the victims were killed. Groups like the New York-based Innocence Project urged Parson to halt the execution so his claims could be fully vetted.

In their statement, Taylor’s lawyers said “credible evidence” showed Rowe was still alive after Taylor went to visit his daughter in California, which they say proved he was not the killer.

His legal team called on state legislators to pass a new law that would allow prisoners with plausible claims of innocence to get an evidentiary hearing, which is available in other states.

“If this can be accomplished, Raheem’s death will not have been completely in vain,” they wrote.

Legislators passed a law nearly two years ago that now allows prosecutors to petition a court if they believe a prisoner is innocent or was erroneously convicted, but Taylor’s lawyers called it “clearly not an adequate remedy.”

They noted the law has been used just three times. In 2021, it led to the release of Kevin Strickland, who spent four decades in prison for a triple Kansas City murder he did not commit. Across the state, St. Louis prosecutors hope a motion they under the law filed will soon free Lamar Johnson, who they believe has spent 28 years in prison for a murder that two other men admit committing.

In Taylor’s case, prosecutors in St. Louis County declined to directly intervene, but said they supported a stay of execution for his attorneys to further investigate the victims’ times of death — a critical aspect of the case.