The state of Missouri has just executed its third person in the past month.
However, lawyers for Leonard “Raheem” Taylor, the most recent person to die by execution, say officials have ignored new evidence that proves he is innocent of the crime he was convicted of nearly 15 years ago.
Taylor was put to death by lethal injection Tuesday evening at a state prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri, where he was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m. Since before his conviction, he had maintained his innocence. Others stood with him, like Missourians for Alternatives to the Death and U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, both calling for the execution to be stopped.
Still, on Monday, Feb. 6, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said he would move forward with the state’s execution of the 58-year-old, stating the evidence that he has seen supports the court’s decision.
He said, “Leonard Taylor brutally murdered a mother and her three children. The evidence shows Taylor committed these atrocities, and a jury found him guilty. Courts have consistently upheld Taylor’s convictions and sentences under the facts and the Missouri and United States Constitutions.” The U.S. Supreme Court refused Taylor’s last-ditch appeal on Tuesday.
Taylor was convicted in 2008 of four counts of first-degree murder and four counts of armed criminal action for a 2004 quadruple homicide in St. Louis, Missouri. The court believed that Angela Rowe, his girlfriend, and her three children (Alexus Conley, 10; AcQreya Conley, 6; and Tyrese Conley, 5) were killed around Nov. 24 to Nov. 25. Taylor had flown to California on Nov. 26.
However, Rowe and her family’s bodies weren’t discovered by authorities until Dec. 3, 2004.
The Midwest Innocence Project says evidence shows Rowe and her children were alive when Taylor left for the West Coast to visit family, and it would have been impossible for him to have committed the crime.
“Mr. Taylor had an alibi that should have proven his innocence immediately — he was out of the state at the time of the murders,” the legal support collective writes on its website. “Based on the state medical examiner’s initial time of death estimation, Mr. Taylor was nearly 2,000 miles away, in California, meeting his 13-year-old daughter [Deja Taylor] for the first time.”
Adding, “His daughter, now an adult, said in a sworn statement that she remembers Mr. Taylor calling Ms. Rowe during their visit and that she even spoke to Ms. Rowe and one of her daughters over the phone.”
On Monday, Jan. 9, Kent Gipson and his co-counsel Kevin Schriener, who represented Taylor, submitted statements from the daughter now 31-year-old daughter and her mother about Taylor’s time in Los Angeles.
“My father and Angela told me that they wanted me to come out to St. Louis to meet her and her children in person,” Taylor wrote. “I was so happy to connect with my father and his new family that I cried quite a bit that day.”
Even with this testimony, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office argued Rowe’s phone service carrier, Charter, did not show calls to or from Rowe’s home phone after Nov. 24, 2004.
Taylor’s defense team disputed this and pointed to a disclaimer posted by Charter that said the company’s phone records might not be accurate. Gipson and Schriener also noted that other carriers show that calls were made from Rowe’s home well after Nov. 26.
Still, the prosecutor decided not to vacate Taylor’s conviction — even though a new Missouri law would easily have given him a pathway to exoneration.
According to Wesley Bell, the St. Louis County prosecutor, “We are not filing a motion to vacate Leonard Taylor’s sentence. The facts are not there to support a credible case of innocence.”
Lawyers at the Innocence Project also take issue with reports from the medical examiner. Within the report regarding Rowe and her children’s deaths, the professional “changed the time of death estimation — widening the potential range of dates during which Ms. Rowe and her children might have been killed — with no sound explanation.”
Taylor’s former legal team also never challenged the medical examiner by hiring a forensic pathologist, a move that could have made a difference in his conviction. His new attorneys believe had they retained the pathologist, they would “have found evidence supporting Mr. Taylor’s innocence.”
On Jan. 25, the defense presented evidence from forensic pathologist Jane Turner disputing the original finding. Turner said evidence showed at least one victim was in rigor mortis when the bodies were discovered, a condition that would not have persisted more than a week after death, even with the cold temperature in the house. Turner noted not present in the bodies were other postmortem changes that would have been present in the bodies a week or more after death, according to The Kansas City Star.
Instead, the prosecution rested a great deal of their case on testimony from Taylor’s brother, who allegedly told police that Taylor told him that he killed his girlfriend before he left town. His brother would later recant his statement to law enforcement and during the trial.
The brother, who died in 2015, “made the statement after police beat him, coerced him, and threatened him and his mother,” Taylor’s lawyers said. The attorneys also say they have proof that “officers who interrogated Mr. Taylor’s brother used psychologically coercive tactics known to produce false confessions.”
Parson signed the death warrant scheduling Taylor to die at 6 p.m. A devout Muslim, Taylor said Monday regarding his death, “If it’s just my time for going on home — from Allah we come, to Allah we return. If that’s what it is, I accept that without any anger, without any frustration, without any hatred, or anything like that. One thing you will not do, you will not break my spirit.”
Taylor’s final written statement on Tuesday read in part: “Death is not your enemy, it is your destiny. Look forward to meeting it. Peace!”