Civil rights groups seeking to halt Missouri execution

FILE - This booking photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Leonard Taylor. Attorneys for Taylor, a Missouri man scheduled to be executed in February 2023, are seeking a new hearing, citing sworn statements they call “clear and convincing evidence” that he did not kill his girlfriend and her three children. (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP, File)

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The president of the national NAACP is urging Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to halt the execution of Raheem Taylor, who is scheduled to die by injection Tuesday for the deaths of his girlfriend and her three children.

"There are many reasons to spare Mr. Taylor's life, but they all come down to one: the state of Missouri has the life of a man in its hands, and, in this life and death decision, lies the weight of moral responsibility," NAACP President Derrick Johnson wrote to the Republican governor. "The evidence presented at trial does not support Mr. Taylor's conviction."

Separately, nearly three dozen civil rights and religious groups asked St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell to reconsider his decision not to ask a judge for a new hearing on Taylor's claim that he was not even in Missouri when the killings occurred.

The letter said Bell has a "clear opportunity here to free an innocent Black man whose case was riddled with prosecutorial misconduct, police coercion and brutality, and ineffective assistance of counsel."

Bell said in his Jan. 30 decision the "facts are not there to support a credible case of innocence." He said in a statement Monday that although his office would not have sought the death penalty, "we believe the jury got the verdict right" in finding Taylor guilty.

Meanwhile, former St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch, whose office prosecuted the 2004 case, told The Associated Press Taylor's claims of innocence are "nonsense," and that the evidence against him is overwhelming.

Taylor, 58, who previously went by the first name Leonard, shared a house in the St. Louis suburb of Jennings with Angela Rowe and her children -- 10-year-old daughter Alexus Conley, 6-year-old daughter AcQreya Conley, and 5-year-old son Tyrese Conley. Taylor boarded a flight to California on Nov. 26, 2004.

On Dec. 3, 2004, police were sent to the home after worried relatives said they hadn't heard from Rowe. Officers found the bodies of Rowe and her children. All four had been shot.

Authorities first believed the killings happened only a few days before the bodies were discovered, at the time when Taylor was in California. But at Taylor's trial, Medical Examiner Phillip Burch said the killings could have happened two or three weeks before the bodies were discovered.

Kent Gipson, one of Taylor's attorneys, said several people, including relatives of Rowe and a neighbor, saw Rowe alive in the days after Taylor left St. Louis. Meanwhile, Taylor's daughter in California, Deja Taylor, claimed in a court filing that she and her father spoke by phone with Angela Rowe and one of the children during his visit. The court filing said Deja Taylor's mother and sister corroborated her story.

McCulloch said those alibis provided by Taylor's daughter and her relatives were "completely made up."

McCulloch said evidence suggested Rowe and the children were killed on the night of Nov. 22 or on Nov. 23, 2004, when Taylor was still in St. Louis County. He noted Rowe typically made around 70 outgoing calls or texts each day. Starting Nov. 23, she made none.

Meanwhile, DNA from Rowe's blood was found on Taylor's glasses when he was arrested, and a relative taking him to the airport saw Taylor toss a gun into the sewer, McCulloch said. Authorities believe Taylor shot Rowe during a violent argument, then killed the children because they were witnesses.

The execution would be the third in Missouri in three months, following those of Kevin Johnson and Amber McLaughlin. Johnson was executed Nov. 29 for killing a Kirkwood, Missouri, police officer. McLaughlin was executed Jan. 3 for fatally stabbing a woman in St. Louis County.