Missouri executes Leonard Taylor, convicted of quadruple murder, despite innocence claim
Leonard “Raheem” Taylor, who was convicted in a 2004 quadruple murder but maintained his innocence, died by lethal injection Tuesday night at a prison in eastern Missouri.
Taylor, 58, was executed at the state prison in Bonne Terre. Karen Pojmann, of the Missouri Department of Corrections, said the lethal drug pentobarbital was administered to Taylor at 6:07 p.m.
He was pronounced dead roughly nine minutes later at 6:16 p.m.
In his final written statement, Taylor said Muslims don’t die but live on “eternally in the hearts” of family and friends.
“Death is not your enemy, it is your destiny,” he wrote in part of the statement. “Look forward to meeting it. Peace!”
Taylor has long maintained that he was in California when his girlfriend, Angela Rowe, and her three children — Alexus Conley, 10, AcQreya Conley, 6, and Tyrese Conley, 5 — were killed. All were found dead in their suburban St. Louis home on Dec. 3, 2004.
Initially, investigators said the victims had been killed no more than a few days before they were discovered. But at trial, St. Louis County medical examiner Phillip Burch changed the estimated time of death to a two or three-week window based in part on the cool temperature in the house.
Lawyers for Taylor have argued that there is evidence Rowe and her children were still alive at the time Taylor was in California. A forensic pathologist hired by the defense also issued a finding on Jan. 25 challenging the conclusions on their time of death.
Among those who witnessed Taylor’s execution on Tuesday were nine of the victims’ family members. Gerjuan Rowe, older sister to Angela Rowe, said she believed “justice was served” by the state.
In a statement, the Midwest Innocence Project said Taylor was unjustly “killed by the very system that should have protected him.”
“Since the moment of his arrest, Mr. Taylor proclaimed his innocence, loudly and for all who would hear. Yet no one — not the police, not the prosecutor, not the attorneys charged with defending him — seriously investigated that claim of innocence,” the group wrote.
In recent weeks, attorneys for Taylor highlighted new information in an effort to halt his execution. Groups such as the Innocence Project and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty also threw their support behind Taylor.
Gov. Mike Parson denied his clemency request on Monday, saying Taylor “brutally murdered” the victims.
“The evidence shows Taylor committed these atrocities and a jury found him guilty,” Parson said. “Despite his self-serving claim of innocence, the facts of his guilt in this gruesome quadruple homicide remain.”
In the days leading up to the execution, two petitions before the Missouri Supreme Court were denied. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. In a docket entry, the high court rejected a stay of execution.
Taylor’s lawyers also asked the Missouri Supreme Court to direct a prison warden to let his spiritual advisor be with him in the execution chamber.
Megan Crane, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Missouri office in St. Louis, said Taylor was “wrongfully executed” despite a “credible claim of innocence” that was not heard or evaluated by any court of law. She also noted the state carried out the death sentence as there was an open legal claim that his religious rights were violated by the state.
“This is an undeniable and irreversible injustice,” Crane said. “But, in the words of Raheem, he will ‘live eternally in the hearts of family and friends.’”
Protesters gathered across the state to express opposition to capital punishment. Demonstrations were organized in St. Louis, Columbia, Kansas City, Jefferson City, Columbia and Bonne Terre.
In Kansas City, roughly two dozen gathered at 39th Street and Troost Avenue as part of a protest organized by the Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty ahead of Taylor’s execution. Some waved signs as passing cars honked in support.
“I’m a Christian by faith, and I just don’t think that killing is the right thing,” said Jared Sloan, 67, an Independence minister, who carried a sign on Tuesday that read: “Thou shalt not kill.”
“It’s immoral for the state of Missouri to take on itself the right to execute and kill people.”
Susie Roling, a social worker and director of operations at Journey to New Life, a prison re-entry program based in Kansas City, said there is no evidence that demonstrates the death penalty is a deterrent against crime.
“The worst of the worst in our country are not put to death,” Roling said. “It’s oftentimes the poorest of the poor.”
Furonda Brasfield, an Arkansas attorney and director of leadership with the Eighth Amendment Project, which seeks to end the death penalty, said Taylor’s case represents “a travesty of justice.” She pointed to the case of Ladell Lee, an Arkansas man executed in 2017, among the cases where states have pressed on with carrying out a death sentence despite standing claims of innocence.
“These types of things happen all the time. And these states have got to slow down. They have to be less bloodthirsty and just stop and fully explore these claims of innocence,” Brasfield said.
In the past 10 weeks, Missouri has executed three people. Amber McLaughlin died Jan. 3, and Kevin Johnson died Nov. 29.
All three were convicted in St. Louis County, which has the sixth highest number of executions in the U.S., at 20. It trails four counties in Texas and one in Oklahoma, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
Parson has now denied clemency to two people who claimed they were innocent and consequently that they were wrongly sentenced to die.
The first was Walter Barton, who was tried five times for the killing of a woman in Ozark. The Innocence Project, the Midwest Innocence Project and the MacArthur Justice Center urged Parson to appoint a board to investigate Barton’s innocence claims, which included dubious blood splatter evidence and an incentivized jailhouse informant. Barton was executed in May 2020.