Target: Governor Jay Nixon
Goal: Commute the death sentence of a man sentenced by a racially prejudiced justice system
Leon Taylor, convicted of the 1994 murder of Robert Newton, is set to die on November 19th. His case may be one of thousands of across the country in which race played a deciding factor. Taylor, who is African American, was convicted of shooting Robert Newton, a white man, during an armed robbery at the gas station where Newton worked as an attendant. The first trial, in 1995, resulted in a hung jury. The relatively diverse group of jurors (including four African Americans) remained undecided as to his sentence, and so the judge himself handed Taylor the death penalty.
In 1997, the Missouri Supreme Court found that the prosecutor in Taylor’s case had overstepped his bounds by urging the jury to decide based on anger and emotion, rather than facts. Noting that such a plea may have unduly influenced the jury, the court ordered that Taylor be resentenced. The new jury, however, was entirely white. At least six African Americans had been presented as potential jurors, but were arbitrarily rejected by the prosecution. This was not an unusual case in Missouri – a study published by the Bar Association in 1994 not only found that almost fifty percent of African Americans sentenced to death in Missouri had faced exclusively non-African American juries, but that in such cases African Americans “are 20 times more likely to be sentenced to death.” Taylor was judged within a legal system which showed obvious signs of racial bias and discrimination.
Leon Taylor may have been a perpetrator, but he was also a victim of a system which judged him not solely based on his actions, but on the color of his skin. By signing this petition, you can not only contribute to saving his life, but also help to keep the state of Missouri accountable for its racial bias.
Dear Governor Nixon,
I am writing to urge you to halt the upcoming execution of Leon Taylor. There is evidence to suggest that race may have played a crucial role in the sentencing of Mr. Taylor, who is scheduled to be executed on November 19th.
Mr. Taylor, an African American, was convicted of the 1994 murder of Robert Newton, a white man. In 1997, he was resentenced due to prosecutorial misconduct. The jury which convicted him was entirely white, despite the presence of at least six African American potential jurors. Studies have shown that all-white juries within Missouri show a high racial bias against African American defendants. Indeed, the original jury to judge Mr. Taylor, which included both African American and white jurors, was unable to decide on a sentence.
In closing, I urge you to stop the execution of Mr. Taylor, and commute his sentence to life imprisonment. His death, especially under such circumstances, will not heal old wounds. Please ensure that Leon Taylor and other African Americans currently on or facing death row receive the fair, impartial, and colorblind justice to which they are entitled.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: League of Women Voters of California via Flickr