Missouri execution number four in the past four months was carried out early Wednesday morning, as Michael Taylor died by lethal injection at 12:10 am, even though the state planned to use a largely untested drug from a pharmacy Missouri refused to name.
Attorneys for Taylor, who has been on death row since 1991 for the brutal murder and rape of a 15-year-old girl in 1989, argued that because the execution drug pentobarbital was being obtained from an anonymous compounding pharmacy, its effects were not known and could cause suffering for the condemned man, violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
"We have no idea about the track record of this pharmacy," lawyer John Simon said.
The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Taylor's appeal, despite blistering dissent from Judge Kermit Bye, who said that given the secrecy that Missouri has placed around the pharmacy, it "could be nothing more than a high school chemistry class."
"The reason that Missouri is trying to keep it a secret is because the state knows that it's not being done lawfully," said Missouri American Civil Liberties Union legal director Tony Rothert. "We don't believe that wanting to carry out an execution is a sufficient justification for the state of Missouri to be abetting the violation of federal drug laws."
But Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and a series of courts did not agree. Nixon refused to grant clemency for Taylor, and after seeing four separate appeals denied by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the convicted killer's lawyers took their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the nation's highest court refused to put the brakes on the Missouri execution in a ruling handed down about an hour before Michael Taylor was injected with the pentobarbital that ended his life.
The Missouri Supreme Court also turned down a request for a stay of execution on Tuesday.
Defense lawyers also argued that Taylor's original attorney failed him by convincing him to plead guilty to the heinous crime just so she could lighten her workload.
Michael Taylor, 47 at the time of his death, was convicted of snatching 15-year-old Ann Harrison out of her driveway as she waited for a school bus on the morning of March 22, 1989. Taylor and his companion, Roderick Nunley, were coming off an all-night crack cocaine bender.
They took the girl to the home a house owned by Nunley's mother, where they raped her in the basement then stabbed her to death even as she pleaded with them to let her live. Taylor and Nunley then left her body in the trunk of a stolen car, which they abandoned.
Nunley is still awaiting execution for killing Ann Harrison.
Taylor's attorney also said that by carrying out the execution of Michael Taylor at this late date, Missouri was not only risking a violation of the constitution, it was engaging in a pointless killing.
"He poses no threat to society," said Simon. "His death would come far too late to have any deterrent effect."
"I am totally not the same person I was," Taylor said in an interview with the Reuters news agency. "It's hard to understand that life without parole is not good enough."
Michael Taylor avoided execution in 2006 when the doctor charged by Missouri with mixing the killer drugs admitted that his dyslexia cold lead to an error that could cause the drug to malfunction.