Lethal injection process challenged

Missouri inmate among those whose execution was stayed.
Friday, January 27, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:43 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Michael Taylor had his execution stayed when an attorney challenged lethal injection.

Michael Taylor doesn’t want to die.

He has been sentenced to death after being convicted of the rape and murder of 15-year-old Ann Harrison on March 22, 1989.

He has spent almost 15 years in Missouri’s Potosi Correctional Center. His only hope to avoid execution and instead spend life in prison may be a hearing set for Feb. 21 that challenges the constitutionality of Missouri’s lethal injection process.

A federal judge last week issued a stay of Taylor’s Feb. 1 execution in response to his lawyer’s request for a hearing to present evidence challenging the lethal injection process. The Missouri attorney general’s office has filed a motion asking that the judge vacate the stay.

There has been no response to the motion.

Taylor’s lawyer, John William Simon of St. Louis, has since filed a federal court action arguing that the three drugs the state uses in executions create a risk of gratuitous pain that is not necessary to carry out “the mere extinguishment of life.”

Last year, Missouri executed five inmates, the second highest number, behind Texas, in the U.S. Nationwide, 2005 saw 60 executions in the 38 states that use the death penalty.

Taylor’s challenge is one of several cases nationwide that contest the drugs used for lethal injection, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group.

“It is a justified challenge,” Dieter said. “People are being put in severe pain, so it’s something that should be tried.”

Ann Harrison’s family, who live in Kansas City, could not be reached for comment.

In Missouri, each of the 66 executions carried out since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 has been by lethal injection. Missouri statutes allow either lethal injection or lethal gas.

In 2004, New Jersey halted all executions when the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Supreme Court called for an examination of the state’s lethal injection process. In December 2005, the New Jersey Senate enacted a moratorium on all executions.

On Thursday, according to the Associated Press, a federal appeals court blocked the execution of an Indiana inmate who challenged the legality of lethal injection.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of Florida inmate Clarence Hill in an agreement to consider whether prisoners can use their civil rights to challenge the chemicals used in the execution. The court issued the surprise decision while Hill was strapped to a gurney with intravenous lines running into his arms.

Dieter said veterinarians have abandoned some of the same drugs, which formerly were used in animal euthanasia, because of pain concerns.

Though Taylor’s challenge is not new, Dieter said no case has been successful thus far.

John Fougere, spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said, “We do have a motion on file to vacate the stay, right now, our motion speaks for itself.”

In an hour-long telephone interview Wednesday, Taylor said he wouldn’t have pled guilty had he known he would receive the death penalty. His counsel told him he had no chance in front of a jury and a judge would be more lenient. The system set to try him had allowed plenty of men before him plead guilty in exchange for life without parole sentences.

Ray Shawn Jackson, a 22-year-old, had raped and murdered six women, and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office allowed him to plead guilty in exchange for life. Eugene Chrisman, a 32-year-old who raped and murdered a woman, and Bob Berdella, a serial killer who raped and murdered five men, had entered into similar plea bargains with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office. Albert Riederer, the prosecuting attorney of Jackson County, had a reputation for seeking life without parole in first-degree murder trials. Taylor’s potential judge, Judge Alvin Randall, had never meted out the death penalty.

With this information, Taylor opted to plead guilty in June 1989, issuing a video-taped confession of the crime.

The night before Taylor raped and killed Ann Harrison, he stopped by his mother’s house in Kansas City. He was 22-years-old. His mother later told courts he was wearing “dirty, slept-in clothes.” She wanted to get him help for his drug abuse, she said. Taylor responded, “Mama, only God can help me now.”

Then he left.

He spent the rest of that night with Roderick Nunley, a 24-year-old man with a history of violence. Court testimonies report that the two men were high on crack cocaine when they pulled up next to Harrison, who was standing at a bus stop at 7 a.m. the next morning. Harrison was an honor student, an athlete and flutist. From the window of the stolen 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo they were driving, Taylor and Nunley spotted Harrison holding a purse.

“We wanted her purse,” Taylor told the court. They confessed to grabbing the girl, stuffing her into the car and driving her to the basement of Nunley’s mother’s house. Though each had accused the other of raping Harrison, DNA tests linked Taylor directly to the rape.

Later, the men forced Harrison into the trunk of the Monte Carlo and stabbed her to death. Both men testified that she offered money in the hopes that they would spare her life. Both Nunley and Taylor accused each other of instigating her murder, but Taylor finally admitted to it.

“I regretted it immediately,” Taylor said. “I watched somebody lose their life. I’ve always tried to extend some kind of apology to (the Harrisons). I’m deeply sorry. I know they wouldn’t understand what happened with me, but I totally wanted them to know. Man, I’m sorry. I really am.”

Before Jackson County officials linked him to Harrison’s murder, police arrested Taylor for violating his parole on an earlier charge of robbery.

“When I first got arrested for violating my parole, I was happy. I wanted to get this guilt off my back,” he said. “I was lost. It made me look within, concerning what I had been involved in. From that day on, I started to ask for my forgiveness.”

When Taylor entered the sentencing trial in front of Randall, he expected life without parole, even though Riederer and the Jackson County Prosecution office had rejected his plea bargain. Reiderer did not return calls.

On May 3, 1991, after listing evidence and legal findings, Randall announced, “The sentence is death.”

Taylor feels he fell through the cracks.

After a series of shake-ups and run-arounds with attorneys, in what he calls “the judicial playground,” he was left with no hope of appeal. In early January 2006, officials transferred him to the state prison at Bonne Terre, where he spends all day in the observation room, a single cell 10 feet away from where he will be executed.

Speaking out against drugs is something he’s passionate about now. There’s no Band-Aid for curing drug abuse, he says, but he wants to act as a voice to youth on the street. He’s become very spiritual in prison, he says, and works with nonprofit groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and a youth enlightenment program.

He won’t give up hope.

“You can’t let prison kill your thirst, your zest, your goals. I still have goals,” he said.

His goals aren’t just for himself. He sees the lethal injection case as a case for all inmates.

“I gotta have hope,” he said. “This trial isn’t just for me. It’s for all death row inmates. I hope somewhere along the lines, people look at this and see that the taking of someone’s life is inhumane in any way.”

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