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Advocates call for prosecutor reforms in rally against execution

by Ryan Pivoney | February 1, 2023 at 4:02 a.m.
Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune photo: Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel Jr. advocates for prosecutor reforms Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 31, 2023, in the state Capitol Rotunda during a rally opposing Missouri's next execution scheduled for Feb. 7. The man scheduled for execution, Leonard “Raheem” Taylor, maintains he is innocent of the quadruple homicide he was convicted of in 2004.

The Missouri chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for prosecutor reforms as it rallied against Missouri's third scheduled execution in a little more than two months.

"We often wonder how is it that we can have a system that is built on a razor-thin line of truth that keeps dissecting human bodies into pieces regardless of the outcome of the input," Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel Jr. said, describing the death penalty as one of the most important issues facing Missouri.

The NAACP and Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty (MADP) hosted a petition drop and small rally Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol. The petitions urge Gov. Mike Parson to grant Leonard "Raheem" Taylor a reprieve on his death sentence.

Missouri plans to execute Taylor, who was convicted of a 2004 quadruple homicide, on Feb. 7.

The issue, advocates said, is that he's innocent.

Taylor, 58, was convicted for the murders of Angela Rowe, his girlfriend at the time, and her three young children in Jennings, near St. Louis. Throughout his nearly 20 years in prison, he has maintained his innocence.

He said he was visiting his daughter in California when the murders took place and alleged prosecutors convinced witnesses to change their testimony about the timing of the murders to put him in town.

He's been on death row since 2008.

Taylor has an application before the conviction and incident review unit of the St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office, asking it to review the evidence in his case. Prosecutors can file a motion for a hearing on his innocence claims.

Michelle Smith, co-director of MADP, called on the prosecutor's office to conduct a thorough investigation into the innocence claims.

"We understand that everything is not fleshed out at this moment, however, we don't have time. Raheem doesn't have time," she said. "Raheem has one week so he needs someone with the courage to step up and say, 'Let's slow these things down. Let's stop this.'"

Chapel said confessions "beaten out of family members" and manipulation of evidence to support a range of murder dates were prosecutorial flaws in Taylor's case.

"I'm proud to be here today, having in our presence other statewide associations, in calling for the formation of a coalition for prosecutor reform," Chapel said. "Statewide civil, justice and religious organizations working to ensure that prosecutors are held accountable and actually do the work of finding justice."

Chapel pointed specifically to the lack of prosecution in murder cases in Crawford and Jefferson counties but said work needs to be done statewide.

"They're going to get somebody that did it, but forgot to add the justice portion -- that needs to come back to prosecutors throughout the state," Chapel said. "... The eyes of the state are looking at you."

More than 190 people have been exonerated from death row throughout the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Taylor's execution will be the third execution in Missouri in a little more than two months, all of which have garnered demonstrations in the Capital City. Missouri is one of five states with scheduled executions this year.

Missouri carried out death sentences for Amber McLaughlin, the first transgender woman to be executed in the U.S. on Jan. 3 and Kevin Johnson, a St. Louis man convicted of killing a police officer, on Nov. 29, 2022.

Like Taylor, both had asked the governor to halt their executions. Parson did not.

Smith said the question of innocence makes Taylor's case different from the previous two executions Missouri carried out.

But even with executive intervention, Taylor would remain in prison to serve out a 100-year sentence of an unrelated rape case, the Kansas City Star reports.

Joseph Armine spent 27 years on death row in Missouri before he was found innocent. Justice, he said at Tuesday's rally, is serving time in prison. He said the state is "blood hungry" and "greedy for death" but people deserve fair trials.

He encouraged people to talk more about the death penalty and its use in Missouri.

"Who would think in 2023 we'd still be fighting the death penalty," Armine said. "Somebody's dropping the ball."

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, joined the rally and said the death penalty is a miscarriage of justice, "especially if you get it wrong."

"When you're doing the right thing, the right thing is just simple. It's common sense," she said. "But I guess common sense ain't so common in this building sometimes."

Print Headline: Advocates call for prosecutor reforms in rally against execution


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