Missouri executes Leon Taylor for 1994 killing
A man who killed a suburban Kansas City gas station attendant in front of the worker’s young stepdaughter in 1994 was put to death early Wednesday — the ninth execution in Missouri this year.
Leon Vincent Taylor, 56, was pronounced dead at 12:22 a.m. at the state prison in Bonne Terre, minutes after receiving a lethal injection. With Taylor’s death, 2014 ties 1999 for having the most executions in a year in Missouri.
Taylor shot worker Robert Newton to death in front of Newton’s 8-year-old stepdaughter during a gas station robbery in Independence, Missouri. Taylor tried to kill the girl, too, but the gun jammed.
Taylor’s fate was sealed Tuesday when Gov. Jay Nixon declined to grant clemency and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down his appeal.
His body covered by a white sheet, Taylor could be seen in the execution chamber talking to family members through the glass in an adjacent room. Once the state started injecting 5 grams of pentobarbital, Taylor’s chest heaved for several seconds then stopped. His jaw went slack and he displayed no other movement for the rest of the process.
Four of Taylor’s family members sat in a room to his left and looked on without reaction as the drug killed Taylor in about eight minutes. At a time when lethal injections have gone awry in Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona and taken an extended period to kill an inmate, Taylor’s execution went off without any visible hitches or complications with the drug or equipment.
In a final statement, Taylor apologized to Newton’s family because “our lives had to entwine so tragically” and thanked his family for their support and love.
“I am also sorry to have brought all of you to this point in my life to witness this and/or participate,” Taylor said. “Stay strong and keep your heads to the sky.”
Speaking to reporters after the execution, Newton’s brother, Dennis Smith, noted that it had been about 7,500 days since the killing and said the family has missed Newton every one of them. Smith described Newton as a hard worker, generous and with a memorable laugh. At times, Smith paused to compose himself as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“It would just take a coward to want to hurt someone like him,” Smith said.
Taylor’s execution was briefly delayed as he sought to have his half brother, Willie Owens, as a witness. Taylor’s lawyers filed an appeal four hours before the scheduled execution time and the Missouri Supreme Court granted the request to have the one-time co-defendant in the slaying watch his brother die.
Department of Corrections spokesman Mike O’Connell said Owens ultimately decided not to attend the execution.
Taylor’s last meal consisted of eggs, bacon, doughnuts and an orange drink. O’Connell said Taylor later turned down the sedative Valium and the sedative midazolam.
According to court records, Taylor, Owens and his half-sister, Tina Owens, decided to rob a gas station on April 14, 1994. Newton was at the station with his stepdaughter.
Taylor entered the store, drew a gun and told Newton, 53, to put $400 in a money bag. Newton complied and Willie Owens took the money to the car.
Taylor then ordered Newton and the child to a back room. Newton pleaded for Taylor not to shoot him in front of the little girl, but Taylor shot him in the head. He tried to kill the girl but the gun jammed, so he locked her in the room and the trio drove away.
Taylor was arrested a week after the crime when police responded to a tips hotline call.
Court appeals claimed the death penalty for Taylor was unfair for several reasons.
Taylor’s original jury deadlocked and a judge sentenced him to death. When that was thrown out, an all-white jury gave Taylor, who was black, the death sentence.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only a jury could impose a death sentence. Taylor’s lawyers contended that a Missouri Supreme Court ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court decision led the state to commute at least 10 other death sentences for inmates sentenced by a judge to life in prison — everyone except Taylor.
Attorney Elizabeth Carlyle said Taylor essentially was penalized for successfully appealing his first conviction.
The clemency request to Nixon said Taylor turned his life around in prison, becoming a devout Christian who helped other prisoners. The petition also cited abuse Taylor suffered as a child, saying his mother began giving him alcohol when he was 5 and that he later became addicted to alcohol and drugs.
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