National Coalition to

Abolish the Death Penalty

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On Eve of Controversial Execution, Civil Rights Advocates Call on Nixon for Clemency

Washington, DC - 11/18/14 —As the state of Missouri prepares to execute Leon Taylor shortly after midnight, civil rights and anti-death penalty advocates are calling on Governor Jay Nixon to grant clemency, citing a series of legal loopholes and mistakes as the cause of Taylor’s imminent execution. Although Taylor has admitted to the crime of which he was sentenced, the process of his prosecution and sentencing have given reason for outcry from the legal and civil rights communities.

“While everyone agrees that Leon Taylor should be held accountable for his actions, the death penalty is not the only alternative. In a just world, Mr. Taylor never would have been sentenced to death,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). “Only through a lethal combination of racial bias, legal loopholes and prosecutorial misconduct can an African-American man be sentenced to death first by a single judge, then by an all-white jury, and have that process be considered fair. Governor Nixon should use his office to grant clemency in a case such as this, where we can’t be confident that the process was conducted with the highest integrity.”

Sharing in NCADP’s concern are Barbara Arnwine, the President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Harvard School of Law Professor Charles Ogletree, Director of The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Both sent letters to Nixon calling for clemency.

“Leon Taylor’s case is the exact case that the clemency power was meant to address…. I believe strongly that to grant clemency in this case is the decision that is just, fair, and the only decision that is in accordance with the grave duties and responsibilities of your office and the fundamental role you play in the process. Granting clemency would be a step in the right direction of restoring public confidence that Missouri’s criminal justice system is fair and just,” wrote Arnwine. 

Ogletree notes, “Mr. Taylor is also an appropriate candidate for clemency based on the transformation he has undergone in his time in prison. During his time at Potosi Correctional Center, Mr. Taylor has become active in prison ministry and has become a rock for the Christian community there. He has had no major conduct violations in recent years. Moreover, sometime ago, he reached out to the wife of his victim, Ms. Astrid Hooper (nee. “Newton”) and expressed his sincere remorse for his crimes and condolences for her loss. Ms. Hooper has stated publicly that she believes his remorse is sincere and she has forgiven him for what he has done.”

Taylor would be the 9th man executed in Missouri this year. His lawyers have appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay of execution.

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The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is the nation's oldest organization dedicated to the abolition of the death penalty. We are comprised of an extensive network representing more than 100 state and national affiliate organizations and thousands of advocates and volunteers. Our members include families of murder victims, people across the political and religious spectrum, past and present law enforcement officials and prominent civil and racial justice organizations working to end the death penalty forever.

In January 2014, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty launched the 90 Million Strong Campaign to partner with and mobilize a growing number of national organizations and individuals who believe that it is time for the death penalty to end.