Leon Taylor to be Executed on November 19

The state of Missouri is continuing the pace of setting an execution a month with the execution of Leon Taylor scheduled for November 19.  Mr. Taylor, an African-American, was sentenced to death for the 1994 gas station robbery/murder of Robert Newton, who was white.

In Taylor’s case, issues of racial disparity and legal misfortune are raised due to the integrated jury in Taylor’s first trial being unable to agree on a sentence. Without a jury sentence, the judge sentenced Taylor to death. Due to misconduct by the prosecutor, the courts overturned the sentence. In a second sentencing hearing, the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike six African-Americans from the jury pool, resulting in an all-white jury sentencing Taylor to death.  The judge, even while expressing concerns about the racial dynamics, affirmed their recommendation and imposed “death.”

In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that judges could no longer sentence someone to death when jurors had not concurred as to the sentence.  The Missouri Supreme Court later ruled that this decision should be applied retroactively, and subsequently commuted to life imprisonment the sentences of about a half dozen Missouri inmates whose death sentence was imposed by a judge. Unfortunately, Taylor’s death sentence still stood, even though a judge had originally sentenced him to death.

If this execution is carried out, Taylor will be the 11th person executed by Missouri since last November.

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