July 24, 2014

State Supreme Court sets execution date for convicted murderer Leon Taylor

The State Supreme Court has set a date for the execution of convicted murderer Leon Taylor. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection just after midnight, September 10, at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center at Bonne Terre.

Leon Taylor (courtesy; Missouri Department of Corrections)

Leon Taylor (courtesy; Missouri Department of Corrections)

Taylor was convicted of the 1994 murder of Robert Newton, who was attending a gas station in Jackson County where Taylor and two of his half-siblings had purchased gas.

Taylor pulled a gun and demanded money from Newton, who gave the trio $400 in a bank money bag. Taylor then led Newton to a back room and shot him in the head, killing him.

Taylor then turned the gun on Newton’s eight-year-old step daughter Sarah Yates and pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed and the little girl was spared. Taylor wanted to return to the gas station and get the girl but his step-siblings wanted to leave, so they did.

The state’s next scheduled execution is that of Michael Shane Worthington, for the murder 19 years ago of Mindy Griffin in St. Louis. He is scheduled to be executed early the morning of August 6.


‘Sex and the City’ star’s family history of murder, abuse and incarceration in Missouri

One award-winning actress’ look at her family history has offered Missourians a look at their state’s history.

Television star Cynthia Nixon is featured on the TLC program "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Television star Cynthia Nixon is featured on the TLC program “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Cynthia Nixon, best known as one of the stars of Sex and the City, has been featured on the TLC show Who Do You Think You Are. She asked the show to look into her father’s family history. The search quickly focused on Martha Curnutt, Nixon’s great-great-great grandmother whose married name became Casto.

Nixon wondered what became of Martha’s husband, Noah Casto. Ancestry.com research manager and family historian Jennifer Utley says the answer was surprising.

“We found that she had actually killed her own husband with an axe,” says Utley.

Nixon found an 1843 newspaper entry that suggested Martha had been abused by her husband.

As Nixon reads, the article says the husband, “had been in the habit of treating his wife in a manner too brutal and too shocking to think of. On the morning of the day mentioned he told his wife to get up and get breakfast for himself and her two children, and then to commence saying her prayers, for she should die, he swore, before sunset.”

The account continues, “She got up and made a fire and returned to the room where her unnatural husband slept. He was lying on his back in a sound sleep. She took the axe with which she had been chopping wood and with one blow sunk it deep into his head, just through the eyes.”

“It is awful to think of what Martha endured,” says Nixon. “I certainly wouldn’t call [the murder] a happy ending, by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly I think a better ending than if Noah had killed Martha and maybe killed her children, too.”

Casto is found guilty of first-degree manslaughter and is sentenced to five years in the historic Missouri State Penitentiary. The prison, then only seven years old, has no dedicated facilities for women. Casto spends part of her time working in the homes of businessmen who leased the prison, and part of her time isolated in a prison cell.

While at the prison she becomes pregnant and with the help of an inmate, delivers a daughter, Sarah.  Who fathered the child is not known.

The letter urging Governor John Edwards to pardon Martha Casto includes 55 signatures, including those of a future congressman and governor and a former governor. (courtesy; Missouri State Archives)

The letter urging Governor John Edwards to pardon Martha Casto includes 55 signatures, including those of a future congressman and governor and a former governor. (courtesy; Missouri State Archives)

Utley says many prominent Missourians then petitioned then-governor John Edwards to pardon her, for her sake and the sake of the infant.

“She was there for a week with that baby with no medical aid, she was not able to build a fire, she didn’t have any kind of clothing or any kind of blankets to wrap the infant in,” says Utley.

That petition included the signatures of prominent people in Missouri political history, including a future governor and congressman, Willard Preble Hall, and a former governor, Lilburn Boggs.

The petition was successful and in December, 1844, Casto was pardoned after serving less than two years of her sentence. She returned to using her maiden name, Curnutt.

Nixon is able to hold that pardon and the petition at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City.

Martha Curnutt's grave in Leasburg, Missouri.  (courtesy; Findagrave.com)

Martha Curnutt’s grave in Leasburg, Missouri. (courtesy; Findagrave.com)

Nixon went on to visit Curnutt’s grave in Leasburg, Missouri. She says Curnutt must have been a strong woman to overcome abuse, and the way women were treated in the 1800s.

“I admire how she must have wanted to give up so many times, and how she kept going and how she didn’t accept things,” says Nixon of her great-great-great grandmother. “I’m sure we’ll make many jokes about it in the years to come, about the axe murderess in our family, but I think we will remain in awe of her.”

Missouri Senators discuss rulings on federal health care subsidies

It is likely the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether subsidies for insurance coverage under the federal healthcare reform law will continue to be available, after conflicting federal appeals court rulings about them this week.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

One ruling upholds subsidies for insurance purchased on the federal exchange, one says the law only provides them for insurance purchased on state exchanges.

The case carries extra meaning in Missouri, where the Republican-led legislature opted not to create a state exchange.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D) believes in the end, the subsidies will be upheld.

“We’ve had a number of court decisions on this issue and most of them have said that the subsidies are perfectly fine in the federal exchanges, so I think ultimately that position will prevail in the courts,” says McCaskill. “It has been the dominant decision in the courts that have considered it.”

The other option would be for Congress to change the law to clarify that those subsidies are OK, but Senator McCaskill says that is unlikely.

“It would be great to fix it along with other things that we’d like to fix in the health care bill, unfortunately it’s being wielded as strictly a political weapon by the Republican party right now,” says McCaskill. “They will not come to the table and fix things that need to be fixed because they think it diminishes their ability to win elections around this issue.”

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO)

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO)

Senator Roy Blunt (R) says the conflicting rulings are the result of courts trying to sort out a law that didn’t go to conference between the two chambers.

“The law was poorly written, it was poorly structured, it was crammed down the throats of the minority in both the House and the Senate,” says Blunt.

Discussing the case potentially reaching the Supreme Court, Blunt tells Missourinet affiliate KZRG in Joplin, “Ultimately this gives John Roberts maybe a chance to redeem himself and look at this law one more time, and decide it’s really not the best thing for the country and was done in the worst possible way.”

Blunt refers to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who delivered the majority opinion when the Court upheld the constitutionality of the “Affordable Care Act.” Roberts, an appointee of President George W. Bush, has been heavily criticized by conservatives for voting to uphold that law.

Missouri children: below average (AUDIO)

An annual survey of the welfare of Missouri’s children shows Missouri is not a place where all of the children are above average.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual “Kids Count” survey looks at sixteen behaviors in four categories. Missouri is 29th in the ratings. Its highest ranking is 22nd in education. Its lowest ranking is 30th in childhood health. Figures from various federal agencies are used in compiling the ratings.

This year’s survey sees improvements in education in the last decade. But Foundation spokesman Laurie Spear says improvement in childhood health is limited although the figures for low-birth rate children are better.

AUDIO: Speer:24

Although the teen birth rate has dropped, it is only keeping up with a national trend.

She indicates one of the disappointing results is that almost one-fourth of Missouri’s children live in poverty–23 percent–an increase from 2005.

Missouri’s rankings:

Economic well-being 24

Education 22

Health 30

Family and community 27

Overall 29

The full report is at:


President Obama to talk economy in Kansas City

The White House says President Barack Obama will visit Kansas City next week.

President Barack Obama delivers his 2013 State of the Union address.  (Courtesy; White House Media Affairs)

President Barack Obama delivers his 2013 State of the Union address. (Courtesy; White House Media Affairs)

According to the White House Media Affairs office, “On Tuesday, July 29, President Obama will travel to the Kansas City, MO area. He will remain overnight. On Wednesday, July 30 he will deliver remarks on the economy and return to Washington, D.C. More details about the President visit to the Kansas City area will be made available in the coming days.