Watching Michael Taylor die, through a Missouri prison window

03/12/2014 9:51 AM

03/12/2014 9:51 AM

It’s a surreal feeling to know you are about to see another person die.

It was a little after 10 p.m. and a light snow was falling as I drove the last few miles along a dark, two-lane road to the prison.

At 12:01 a.m., the state of Missouri intended to execute Michael A. Taylor for a crime that shocked the Kansas City area 25 years before: the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Ann Harrison.

I had been there once before in 2006 when Taylor’s first scheduled execution was called off at the 11th hour.

This time, he and his family were resigned to the fact that there would be no last-minute stay.

About an hour before I arrived at the prison, I had spoken on the phone briefly with Taylor. We had met several times in person over the years, and this time, he once again expressed his remorse over what he had done.

Cynics may doubt his sincerity. I don’t know. It seemed genuine to me.

I had also gotten to know Ann’s parents, and though I could not truly understand, I could empathize with the quarter century of hell that the actions of Taylor and his co-defendant had thrust them into.

It was those connections I had established that made me feel obligated to attend the execution.

The prison was locked down when I arrived. I had to pass through two guarded checkpoints to get into the parking lot. If your name wasn’t on the list, you weren’t getting in.

Prison staffers, wearing headsets and radios, greet you at the door and through two security checkpoints inside. About an hour before the event, I and the other state witnesses were taken to a waiting room. Taylor’s family and Ann’s family were put in separate waiting rooms.

Two other reporters, veterans who had witnessed numerous executions, were there. So were two retired Kansas City police detectives. The other witnesses were a state legislator, the wife of one of the officers, and a retired corrections department employee.

There was quite a bit of talking about crime and punishment as we waited. Things got much more subdued when they told us we would be moving to the viewing area in 15 minutes.

The time came, and we were taken down a corridor and into a darkened room with two rows of plastic seats. A heavy curtain covered the window that separated us from the execution room.

No one said a word as we sat in the darkness and waited. Not one word.

I tried to focus on the job I had to do, though the thought of jumping up and asking to be let out crossed my mind.

Suddenly, a guard stepped forward and pulled the curtain back.

The room was brightly lit. Taylor was lying on his back with a white sheet covering everything but his head. Two IV lines ran from under the sheet into an opening in the wall behind him.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was being able to see his family across the room. Taylor had his head turned toward them. He may have been saying something, but you couldn’t hear.

After a few seconds, he lay back. I detected no sign of anxiety or distress on his face.

He never moved again.

I wish I could describe the pall of somber unease I felt after it was over.

Whether you believe capital punishment is well-deserved justice or state-sanctioned murder, it is a difficult act to witness.

Personally, I hope I never have to see it again.

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