Leonard Taylor’s lawyers ask MO Supreme Court to allow spiritual advisor at execution

Nick Wagner/nwagner@kcstar.com

Update: Leonard “Raheem” Taylor was executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre. He was pronounced dead at 6:16 p.m. on Jan. 7.

Lawyers for Leonard “Raheem” Taylor, who is slated to be executed Tuesday evening, have asked the Missouri Supreme Court to direct a prison warden to let his spiritual advisor be with him in the execution chamber.

In a petition Tuesday, Taylor’s attorneys cited a state statute that says a warden, at the request of a prisoner, shall permit any five people, other than someone who is incarcerated, “to be present at the execution.”

The filing came a day after Richard Adams, warden of the correctional center in Bonne Terre, denied Taylor’s request to have a spiritual advisor present. Adams said Taylor previously waived his right to have witnesses or clergy there, and that Taylor’s verbal request for the accommodation Monday came too late.

“The department is unable to reasonably accommodate this request due to institutional security concerns related to changing the protocol at this late hour,” Adams wrote in a letter.

But Taylor’s lawyers say state law does not let a warden exclude anyone other than an incarcerated individual. Taylor’s rights were violated under that statute, they wrote, adding that the refusal also “increases the punishment imposed” on him.

Their filing also asks the state Supreme Court to allow two members of Taylor’s legal team to attend as witnesses. In the alternative, his lawyers are asking the court to halt his execution “pending the full determination of his rights with respect to witnesses.”

Taylor’s spiritual advisor, Anthony Shahid, visited him recently without incident, as did the two lawyers who Taylor wants at his execution, according to the petition.

Earlier Tuesday, Shahid told The Star that the denial was a “violation of our civil rights, our religious rights.”

“I’ve never seen this type of racism,” said Shahid, who is affiliated with Masjid Al-Tauheed, a mosque in St. Louis.

Taylor, 58, is slated to be executed for the 2004 quadruple murder of his girlfriend, Angela Rowe, and her three children: Alexus Conley, 10; Acqreya Conley, 6; and Tyrese Conley, 5. They were found shot in their home in Jennings, near St. Louis.

In 2008, a jury convicted Taylor of four counts of first-degree murder and four counts of armed criminal action. But Taylor maintains he is innocent, saying he was halfway across the country when the victims were killed. Groups like the New York-based Innocence Project have called for a halt to his execution so his claim of wrongful conviction can be vetted.

The decision to not allow a spiritual advisor to be with Taylor outraged his supporters, including ones with the anti-capital punishment group Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty.

“Little did we know in 2023, that even on the eve of an execution, the condemned will be denied the presence of a spiritual advisor — the last chance to repent, receive God or receive a prayer for the innocent,” said Nimrod Chapel, Jr., president of the Missouri NAACP.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must accommodate the wishes of condemned prisoners who want to have their pastors pray aloud and touch them during their executions.

When Missouri executed Kevin Johnson in November for killing a police officer in 2005, the Rev. Darryl Gray sat next to him, his hand resting on the prisoner’s shoulder as the drug was delivered.

“It was like when you turn on a faucet and feel the water running through,” Gray told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of feeling the pentobarbital in Johnson. “I can only hope God took him then.”

Taylor’s lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, focusing on his innocence claim. The court denied his petition Tuesday afternoon.

If he is executed, he will be the third person to die by lethal injection in 10 weeks in Missouri.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.