November 22, 2014

Accomplice cleared as Missouri execution witness, doesn’t come

Some last-minute legal wrangling cleared the way for one of Leon Taylor’s accomplices to witness his execution early this morning, but when the time came the accomplice didn’t show.

Leon Taylor as he appeared in the 2012 documentary Potosi:  God in Death Row.  Taylor is scheduled to be executed early Wednesday morning at the prison in Bonne Terre.

Leon Taylor as he appeared in the 2012 documentary Potosi: God in Death Row.

Willie Owens is the half-brother of Leon Taylor and was with him on the night more than 20 years ago when Taylor killed convenience store manager Robert Newton in front of his then 8-year-old stepdaughter. Taylor on Tuesday asked that Willie Owens be added to the list of people that would witness his execution.

Department of Corrections spokesman Mike O’Connell said that request was initially denied by Corrections Director George Lombardi.

“Director Lombardi believed that for Owens to witness the execution and to be in the view of the victim’s family would have been further victimization of Robert Newton’s relatives,” O’Connell explained.

Taylor’s attorneys appealed to the state Supreme Court which ruled Owens could be a witness, but after telling Corrections he was on his way, Owens declined to come.

“He was asked if it was his choice not to attend, and [told] that the Department would wait for his arrival. Mr. Owens said that it was his choice not to attend.”

Taylor did have four witnesses at his execution, including a different brother and two nieces.

Ferguson Commission vows reconciliation and healing (AUDIO)

The leaders of the newly-appointed Ferguson Commission talk of diversity and unity as they start working on the problems highlighted by the Michael Brown shooting.

The commission appointed by Governor Nixon is 16 people chosen from hundreds of applicants–nine men and seven women, nine African-Americans, seven whites. They come from church, business, education, public service, and activists backgrounds. While some have been involved in politics such as Co-Chairman Rich McClure who was Governor Ashcroft’s Chief of Staff, none of them holds political office today.

One co-chairman is the Reverend Starsky Wilson (upper left), who says “we’ve got heavy lifting to do as a region. We’ve got to do it together…Pray for the work of the commission. Pray for these Commissioners.  Pray for our community, because we need it.”

McClure (second from top left), now a retired moving company executive, tells the audience at the swearing-in of the commission that the group must be a movement for reconciliation and for healing:  “You don’t have to see eye-to-eye to walk arm and arm. We’ve had too much of  ‘you’ and ‘them’ and not enough of  ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘together.'”

Nixon is calling on the commission to “heal the divisions and use this moment to start to walk a different path.” He expects a report by next September 15th.

AUDIO: Ferguson Commission sworn in by Governor Nixon


Missouri executes Leon Taylor for 1994 murder in Independence

Missouri has carried out the execution of 56-year-old Leon Taylor, who was sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder in April 1994 of Robert Newton, the attendant at an Independence convenience store he had just robbed of $400.

Leon Taylor (courtesy; Missouri Department of Corrections)

Leon Taylor (courtesy; Missouri Department of Corrections)

He received a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 12:14 and appeared to stop breathing less than two minutes later, at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center in Bonne Terre.  His official time of death was 12:22.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday denied appeals for a stay of execution.  Governor Jay Nixon then denied an appeal for clemency for Taylor.

Taylor is the ninth man Missouri has executed this year and the 11th since November, 2013.  Only in 1999 has Missouri carried out that many executions in a year.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty against Taylor for several of what Missouri terms, “aggravating circumstances,” including that the murder was connected to a robbery, and because Taylor committed the murder while Newton was holding the hand of his then 8-year-old stepdaughter, Sarah Yates.

After fatally shooting Newton, Taylor pointed the gun at Yates and pulled the trigger but it jammed. He then locked her in the back room of the convenience store with the body of her stepfather. Taylor later told his half-brother and half-sister, who had been involved in the robbery with him, that he, “should have choked the bitch.”

Taylor was convicted of murder by one jury who was unable to agree on his punishment, so the judge imposed the death sentence. That sentence was reversed on appeal, but at the subsequent trial the jury found Taylor guilty and sentenced him to death. Yates testified against Taylor both times.

Taylor’s attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution based on a 2002 federal court ruling that said judges could not impose a death sentence when jurors fail to agree on one. That ruling applied retroactively, and Taylor’s attorneys argued that his was the only case of someone for whom a judge had imposed a death sentence that was not later commuted to life, making his circumstance unusual.

His attorney also argued that the execution should not be carried out because the jury that sentenced him to death was all white. Six blacks were said to have been dismissed from serving as jurors by the prosecutor in the 1999 case, while the jury that was unable to agree on a death sentence had been racially mixed.

Taylor was scheduled to be executed in September but the Supreme Court lifted that execution warrant when his attorneys said they would be unable to work on his case at that time. Instead, Earl Ringo, Junior, was executed September 10 for 1998 the murders of a Columbia restaurant manager and a delivery driver.

Earlier stories:

Missouri sets new execution date for convicted murderer Leon Taylor

Changed or not, execution looms for Missouri inmate Leon Taylor

Missouri Gov, Attorney General statements on Taylor execution

Missouri’s Governor and Attorney General have issued statements regarding the execution of Leon Taylor. Taylor, 56, died by lethal injection early this morning at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre.

Governor Jay Nixon

Governor Jay Nixon

Governor Jay Nixon denied a petition for clemency for Taylor, and issued this statement:

“Earlier today, my counsel provided me with a final briefing on the comprehensive review of the petition for clemency from Leon Taylor, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Robert Newton. Each request for clemency is considered and decided on its own merit and set of facts, and this is a process and a power of the Governor I do not take lightly. After due consideration of the facts, I have denied this petition.

“Robert Newton was murdered in cold blood, even after he handed over money during a robbery of the gas station he managed. If Leon Taylor’s gun had not jammed, Taylor also would have murdered Newton’s eight-year-old stepdaughter as well. There is no question of guilt in this murder, and my denial of clemency upholds the court’s decision to impose a sentence of death.

“I ask that the people of Missouri remember Robert Newton, and keep his family in their thoughts and prayers.”

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster

After Taylor’s execution was carried out, Attorney General Chris Koster issued a statement:

“Leon Taylor coldly murdered a man in front of his young stepdaughter. Those who knew and loved Robert Newton waited two decades for the imposition of justice that finally came early this morning.”


Nixon, legislators in familiar postures (AUDIO)

The next round of state law-making doesn’t start for about two months. But relations between the Governor and the legislature are already rocky.

Republicans regularly claim Governor Nixon is not engaged in the lawmaking process, that he vetoes bills that he might have signed if he had been more interactive with the legislature.   The Democratic Governor points to several bipartisan successes during his first six legislative sessions. “Whether strengthening our mental health industry or  revitalizing our automotive industry or building a new Fulton, we’ve worked across the aisle to get things done,” Nixon says.

But Senate leader Tom Dempsey says the facts prove otherwise, and he has personal experience., noting, “I’ve sponsored legislation for the governor based on his State of the State where he has backed off his support during the process.”


(Senators Schmitt, Kehoe, Wasson, Dempsey, Munzlinger, Richard)

He says Nixon and his Department of Public Safety didn’t communicate with the sponsor of the Criminal Code revision this year, which was handled by Democratic Senator Jolie Justus. Instead, says Dempsey,  the Nixon administration sent messages to outside organizations to influence policies set in the new criminal laws.

Senator Mike Kehoe of Kansas City is critical of Nixon for soliciting his support for a state office project this year and asking him to lead the legislative effort to approve the plan.  The legislature approved the bill, but Kehoe complains Nixon then vetoed the bill “without a phone call to anybody.”

Nixon says he looks forward to working with the legislature.

AUDIO: Nixon, Dempsey, Kehoe 2:22