Government & Politics

Missouri executes Michael A. Taylor for 1989 murder of teenager

A Kansas City man who kidnapped, raped and killed a Raytown South High School freshman in 1989 was executed by lethal injection early today.

Michael Anthony Taylor, 47, was pronounced dead at 12:10 a.m.

Taylor and co-defendant Roderick Nunley pleaded guilty and were sentenced to death for fatally stabbing 15-year-old Ann Harrison on March 22, 1989, after kidnapping her from in front of her southeast Kansas City home while she waited for the school bus.

In a brief phone conversation with The Kansas City Star just hours before the execution, Taylor said he had written a letter to Ann’s parents and that a prison official assured him it would be offered to them. In the letter, Taylor said, he expressed “my sincerest apology and heartfelt remorse.”

“I hope that they’ll accept it,” Taylor said of the letter.

An execution date for Nunley, 48, has not been set.

Wednesday’s execution was the fourth carried out in Missouri since late November, when it adopted the use of the sedative pentobarbital to execute prisoners.

It came after a day of intense and multifaceted legal challenges to Taylor’s execution in state and federal courts that ended when the U.S. Supreme Court denied Taylor’s last request for a stay.

Earlier Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon denied Taylor’s request for clemency. After the execution, Nixon released this statement: “Our thoughts and prayers tonight are with Bob and Janel Harrison, and the other members of Ann Harrison's family, as they remember the 15-year-old child they lost to an act of senseless violence.”

Friends and members of both the Harrison and Taylor families witnessed the execution. Among the state witnesses was retired Kansas City homicide Sgt. Dave Bernard, who was an investigator on the case.

Taylor’s death came a little less than a month short of the 25th anniversary of Ann’s killing.

Taylor’s family issued a statement Tuesday night:

“The family of Michael Anthony Taylor would like to express their gratitude to all of those who supported Michael over the years. It may be a small victory for the State of Missouri but Michael has won in the end. He has struggled for years with the guilt of not stopping a horrendous crime, and has dedicated much of his time in prison to the memory of Ann Harrison through his work with hospice, tutoring and mentoring inside and outside the prison walls. Those heartfelt accomplishments will accompany him into the gates of Heaven where he will be joined by his family and beloved angel.”

Ann's father, Bob Harrison, attended the execution, but did not want to make a statement afterward.

Though he was raised in a two-parent, church-going home, Taylor fell into a pattern of petty crimes and drug use that landed him in trouble.

He and Nunley, who grew up in the same central Kansas City neighborhood, were cruising around in a car they had stolen the day before in Grandview when they randomly chose to drive down Ann’s street in the early morning light.

They later told police that they had been binging on crack cocaine that morning. Both ultimately confessed, although each portrayed the other as the aggressor in the attack.

After spotting Ann, one attacker got out of the car, grabbed her and tossed her into the vehicle. She screamed and fought, but they threatened to kill her if she did not stop.

They drove her to the home of Nunley’s mother in south Kansas City. They forced her into the basement and bound her hands with wire.

In his confession, Taylor said that they both raped her. His DNA was recovered. There was no physical evidence linking Nunley to the sexual assault, and he has always denied that he raped her.

While she was enduring the assault, her family and friends were beginning the frantic search for Ann, whose books, purse and flute case were left neatly piled on the ground.

After raping her, they debated whether to kill her. Nunley said Taylor insisted on it. Taylor said it was Nunley.

A prosecutor later said that it didn’t matter, calling them a “sadistic tag team.”

Ann refused when they told her to get in the car trunk. She pleaded with them not to kill her and said her parents would pay them if they let her go. They pretended to go along with that idea and said they were going to drive her to a pay phone to call her parents.

Instead, they got knives from the kitchen and stabbed her to death.

They abandoned the car several blocks away.

That night, Bob and Janel Harrison pleaded on television for their daughter’s safe return.

It was not until the next night, about 36 hours after Ann disappeared, that her body was found in the abandoned car.

Three months after she was killed, a tipster led police to Taylor and Nunley.

Seeking to avoid death sentences, both men pleaded guilty and chose to have a judge instead of a jury decide their fate.

After a judge sentenced them to death, allegations were made that the judge had been seen drinking at a downtown restaurant before the sentencing.

That led to new sentencing hearings, which again ended in death sentences.

Since then, both men have mounted numerous appeals in state and federal courts.

In early 2006, Taylor came within hours of being executed before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay. Taylor eventually lost that appeal, involving the three-drug execution method, and in 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of that method.

Since then, drug shortages prompted by manufacturers opposed to their products being used to carry out death sentences have forced states to seek alternative chemicals.

That has led to additional legal challenges, including one mounted by Taylor’s lawyers over how the drug currently used by Missouri is obtained and manufactured.

Attorneys for the previous three executed inmates in Missouri had also raised those concerns, but the appeals were denied.