WASHINGTON (CN) — Despite his claims of innocence, the Supreme Court refused on Tuesday to stop the execution of a Missouri man for the 2004 murder of his girlfriend and her three children.
The application — submitted to Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Monday night — was rejected by the full court without any noted dissents. The court did not provide an explanation for its ruling in the case of Leonard Taylor, 58, who is set to be executed Tuesday night.
Taylor lived with his girlfriend, Angela Rowe, and her three children in 2004 when Rowe and her children were shot and killed in their home. Taylor claims he had an alibi at the time of the murders, however, uncertainty about the precise time of their death created complications for Taylor’s defense.
When investigators arrived at Rowe’s home after the bodies were found on Dec. 4, 2004, they noted that the bodies had rigor mortis — the stiffening of joints that can provide clues into the time of death. The medical examiner, Dr. Phillip Burch, testified in his pre-trial deposition that the time of death was about two days before the bodies were discovered. The police concluded that Rowe and her children were not killed until the week of Nov. 29.
Taylor's brother, Perry, became the focus of the murder investigation. Perry was detained, interrogated, and eventually arrested for hindering prosecution until police finally got him to place the blame on his brother for the murders. He told police that Leonard confessed to the murders, and then the police then released Perry. However, Perry would later recant these statements in his pre-trial deposition and testimony at Leonard’s trial. He claims police threatened him and his mother unless he provided details about the murders.
Perry’s statements were the only direct evidence the prosecution presented alleging Leonard committed the murders. Other evidence presented by the prosecution included Rowe’s phone records. Prosecutors tried to argue Taylor didn't call Rowe after he left town and that showed he knew she was already dead. Witness testimony would later undermine this evidence.
During his trial, Taylor’s defense team was blindsided by new testimony from the medical examiner about the timing of Rowe and her children’s deaths. Burch changed his original statement that Rowe and her children were killed two to three days before they were found, and instead said they have been killed up to two to three weeks earlier. The defense argued this was impossible considering the rigor mortis in the bodies and the children’s school records that showed they were in school during that time.
The defense relied on Burch’s pre-trial testimony to form Taylor’s defense, explaining his innocence with an alibi at the time of the murders. However, since they were not aware of the new testimony concerning the time of the murders, his defense team did not have time to provide experts to contradict the testimony. The defense claims Burch’s change in opinion was due to a pre-trial meeting with prosecutors. At trial, Burch confirmed this meeting occurred but could not recall if prosecutors informed him of Taylor’s alibi.
After leaving Rowe’s house, Taylor used an alias and obtained forged identification documents. The prosecution argued this was evidence of his guilt in the murders, but the defense claimed he was on the run because of a drug deal gone bad.
Taylor claims his alibi is corroborated by new evidence that emerged after his trial. He says he flew to California on the weekend after Thanksgiving — when the alleged murders occurred — to meet a long-lost daughter, Deja Taylor. His daughter signed a sworn declaration of this visit and claims while Taylor was there he allowed her to talk to Rowe and one of the children on the phone. The visit and phone calls were also corroborated by Deja’s mother and her sister.