State v. Taylor

Decision Date27 October 2009
Docket NumberNo. SC 89294.,SC 89294.
Citation298 S.W.3d 482
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Leonard S. TAYLOR, Appellants.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Rosemary E. Percival, Office of the State Public Defender, Kansas City, MO, for appellants.

Chris Koster, Attorney General, Evan J. Buchheim, Shaun J. Mackelprang, Office of Missouri Attorney General, Jefferson City, MO, for respondent.

WILLIAM RAY PRICE, JR., Chief Justice.

I. Introduction

A jury found Leonard Taylor guilty of four counts of first degree murder pursuant to section 565.0201 for killing Angela Rowe and her three children. The jury recommended and the trial court sentenced Taylor to death. This Court has exclusive jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3. The judgment is affirmed.

II. Facts

On December 3, 2004, police discovered the bodies of Angela Rowe and her three children in Rowe's home. The police found that the house was locked and gained entry through a bedroom window. Inside, the air conditioner was set at fifty degrees and a television was on. Outside, newspapers were in the front yard and mail was in the mailbox.

The victims died from gunshots from a .38 or .357 revolver. An autopsy revealed that Rowe had sustained four gunshots: two to her left arm, one to her chest, and one fatal shot to her head. Alexus Conley, ten years old, and Acqreya Conley, six years old, sustained two fatal gunshots to the head, and Tyrese Conley, five years old, sustained one fatal gunshot wound to the head. The victims' bodies were in the early stages of decomposition but past the state of rigor moris. The medical examiner determined the victims had been deceased for two to three weeks.

Taylor was dating Rowe at the time of her death. He also was married to Debrene Williams, who lived in California. On November 23rd, 2004, Taylor called his brother Perry Taylor (Perry) asking for money. Taylor told him:

I killed Angela.... I didn't mean to kill her, ... but she came at me with a knife and I couldn't get her off of me.... I shot her two or three times.

Taylor also told his brother "I'm going to kill the kids too" or "I killed the kids." Telephone records show Taylor called Perry from his cell phone on November 23rd at 11:24 p.m. and on November 24th at 12:05 a.m. Telephone records also show that Rowe's landline was used to call Perry's cell phone twice in the afternoon of November 24th.

On November 24th or 25th, Perry told his girlfriend that Taylor "killed Angie and the kids." On November 25th, Perry was at his girlfriend's house when he received a call from Taylor. Perry told his girlfriend Taylor was still at Rowe's house "waiting on a letter to come from California." The girlfriend heard Perry ask Taylor, "how you there with them people? They dead." Perry told her that Taylor had "turned off the heat and turned on the air conditioning, and the bitch wouldn't let him go." Taylor's cell phone records show four calls to Perry on November 25th and Rowe's landline records show one call to Perry that same day.

Taylor left St. Louis on November 26th. He had plane tickets from St. Louis to Ontario, California, via Phoenix, Arizona. The reservation was made on November 25th by "Deb" and was made from a telephone number with a California area code.2 The ticket was under the name "Louis Bradley," a name Taylor used as an alias and the name on a Missouri identification with Taylor's picture. Early on November 26th, Taylor went to his sister-in-law's home for a ride to the airport. Taylor was seen disposing of a pistol in the sewer near the house, though it was never recovered. Taylor also left Perry's vehicle and a box for Perry at his sister-in-law's house. On the way to the airport, Taylor told his sister-in-law:

This will probably be the last time you see me alive. I need to get out of St. Louis, some people are trying to kill me. And you're going to hear some things about me that are not true, don't believe them ...

Taylor was in California with his wife on November 27th. On December 3rd, Taylor made several calls from his cell phone, and the repoll number was from Columbus, Georgia.

Taylor was arrested on December 9th in Madisonville, Kentucky, at the home of another girlfriend. Police had the house under surveillance and observed Taylor leaving by lying on the floorboard of a vehicle. At the time of his arrest, Taylor used the alias "Jason Lovely."

As of December 3rd, the victims had not been seen for several days. Rowe did not report to her weekend shift as a housekeeper on November 21st, but she had called in to report her absence. She also missed work on November 26th, 27th, and 28th and did not call in to report her absence on these days. Rowe's children were absent from school the entire week of November 29th, when classes resumed from the Thanksgiving break.

The last time family and friends remember talking to or seeing the victims is unclear. The telephone records from Rowe's landline show that the last outgoing call was placed on November 25th. From November 1st to 25th, the number of outgoing calls ranged from four to seventy-two. Taylor's cell phone records do not show any calls to Rowe after November 23rd. Two non-functioning cell phones were found in Rowe's home, and there was no evidence Rowe had any other functioning cell phone.

Rowe's friend testified she last spoke to Rowe on November 22nd and called Rowe's house repeatedly without getting an answer from November 23rd to the 27th. Gerjuan Rowe (Gerjuan), Rowe's sister, testified that she talked with Rowe and borrowed $50 dollars from Rowe the weekend of November 20th and the weekend of November 27th and spoke with Rowe on Thanksgiving, November 25th.

Telephone records show no calls from Rowe's home telephone to Gerjuan after November 24th and no telephone calls from Gerjuan's cell phone to Rowe's home telephone from November 24th to December 3rd. A neighbor testified he saw the victim and her children the weekend after Thanksgiving. Beverly Conley, the children's aunt, testified that Alexus called her from Rowe's home late on November 27th or early on November 28th. However, the telephone records from Rowe's home indicate calls were made to Beverly Conley on November 19th and 21st. The children celebrated Thanksgiving with Conley and their father's side of the family the weekend of November 21st. Sherry Conley stated in a deposition that she spoke with Rowe on November 28th, but at trial testified she was mistaken and did not talk to Rowe on November 28th.

In the guilt phase, the jury deliberated for four and a half hours before finding Taylor guilty of all four counts of first-degree murder and four counts of armed criminal action. In the penalty phase, the State presented evidence of Taylor's prior convictions for possession with intent to distribute cocaine, forcible rape, forgery, and stealing by deceit, and a guilty plea for forcible rape. Testimony from a rape victim and three members of the victims' family were also offered. Pursuant to Taylor's decision, the only evidence Taylor offered was a stipulation entered and passed to the jury. The jury deliberated for three hours before finding five aggravating factors for each victim.3

III. Standard of Review
A. Overview

On direct appeal, this Court reviews a death penalty conviction for prejudice, not mere error, and will reverse the trial court's decision only when the error was so prejudicial that the defendant was deprived of a fair trial. State v. Johnson (Johnson I), 207 S.W.3d 24, 34 (Mo. banc 2006). Prejudice exists when there is a "reasonable probability that the trial court's error affected the outcome of the trial." Id. Non-preserved issues are reviewed for plain error, if the error resulted in manifest injustice or a miscarriage of justice. Id. Evidence is reviewed in the light most favorable to the verdict and is reviewed for abuse of discretion. State v. Johns, 34 S.W.3d 93, 103 (Mo. banc 2000).

Taylor raises eleven points on appeal. Each point is denied.

B. Evidentiary Standard of Review

Taylor's points one through five and point eight refer to error in the admission of evidence. The admission of evidence is reviewed for abuse of discretion and disturbed only when the decision is "clearly against the logic of the circumstances." State v. Reed, 282 S.W.3d 835, 837 (Mo. banc 2009). The trial court's determination of the relevancy of evidence is reviewed for abuse of discretion. State v. Wilson, 256 S.W.3d 58, 61 (Mo. banc 2008). Likewise, the standard of review for publishing evidence to the jury is also abuse of discretion. State v. Wolfe, 13 S.W.3d 248, 260 (Mo. banc 2000).

A trial court can abuse its discretion through the inaccurate resolution of factual issues or through the application of incorrect legal principles. Where the facts are at issue, appellate courts extend substantial deference to trial court decisions. However, when the issue is primarily legal, no deference is warranted and appellate courts engage in de novo review. See State v. March, 216 S.W.3d 663, 664 (Mo. banc 2007); Jones v. Fife, 207 S.W.3d 614, 616 (Mo. banc 2006).4

Reversal due to an evidentiary error requires a showing of prejudice. State v. Wolfe, 13 S.W.3d at 260. Prejudice exists when "there is a reasonable probability that the trial court's error affected the outcome of the trial." State v. Forrest, 183 S.W.3d 218, 224 (Mo. banc 2006). Prejudice is presumed when admissible evidence is excluded and is rebutted by specific facts and circumstances. State v. Barriner, 111 S.W.3d 396, 401 (Mo. banc 2003).

IV. Hearsay Statements

In points one through four, Taylor argues that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding certain statements as hearsay. Taylor argues that the statements were admissible pursuant to certain exceptions to the hearsay rule or pursuant to the curative admissibility doctrine.

A. Legal Standards
i. Hearsay

Hearsay is an "out-of-court statement that is used to...

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