Leonard Taylor not allowed spiritual advisor at execution. Warden says he asked too late

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.

A Missouri prison warden has denied Leonard “Raheem” Taylor’s request to have a spiritual advisor by his side when he is executed Tuesday, saying he was too late in asking for it.

In a letter Monday, Richard Adams, warden of the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, said Taylor previously waived his right to have witnesses or clergy present in the execution chamber. Taylor then verbally requested the accommodation Monday morning.

“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.

Taylor, 58, is slated to be executed Tuesday evening 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 has outraged some of 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.

Taylor’s spiritual advisor, Anthony Shahid, believed he was approved to attend but then got a call saying he had been denied. Shahid said the decision carried weight at a time of anti-Islamic sentiments, saying it 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.

One of Taylor’s attorneys, Kent Gipson of Kansas City, said the decision seemed “arbitrary” and unreasonable considering Shahid was already approved to visit Taylor at another facility.

Karen Pojmann, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said Taylor had been asked in January if he wanted a spiritual advisor. She said Taylor was able to meet Monday with his daughters, including one who was previously not allowed in.

The warden said he would allow Taylor a “special visit” with his spiritual advisor in the holding cell area Tuesday morning, hours before the execution. But Taylor’s request for Shahid to be in the chamber “could have been presented a number of other times” during the process, but was not, Adams wrote in his letter, which was sent to Taylor’s lawyers by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

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.”

Ahead of Taylor’s planned execution, his lawyers have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, focusing on his innocence claim.

Should his execution go forward, he will be the third person to die by lethal injection in 10 weeks in Missouri.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.