Judges to hear death row appeal

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- A federal appeals court panel has set an April hearing in the case of Missouri death row inmate Michael Taylor, whose planned execution Feb. 1 was halted by the federal courts.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals notified lawyers late Friday that it would hear arguments in the case on April 18, and denied Attorney General Jay Nixon's request to expedite the appeal.

Attorneys for Taylor and the state each will have 30 minutes to argue their cases.

Taylor had been scheduled to be executed in the 1989 kidnapping, rape and murder of 15-year-old Ann Harrison of Kansas City.

An appeals court panel denied Taylor's stay of execution, but the full appeals court stayed it. The U.S. Supreme Court, including Justice Samuel Alito on his first day on the high court, refused to lift it.

Taylor, 39, of Kansas City, claims that the three-drug lethal injection method, if administered improperly, causes pain in violation of the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

His case has been mired in appeals, and some court observers believe it must be resolved before any more executions can be scheduled in Missouri.

An issue the two sides likely will argue is whether a two-day hearing conducted by U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan in Kansas City last month provided enough time for Taylor's lawyer to defend him.

Gaitan held a two-day telephone hearing on the merits of Taylor's challenge to Missouri's lethal injection method. Gaitan, who was under pressure by the Eighth Circuit to render a decision quickly, didn't permit Taylor's attorney to present two witnesses. Taylor's attorney, John Simon, has said the hearing lacked legitimacy.

Nixon has said the case has had ample hearing.

Nixon, citing other death-penalty cases, said the state has never lost the underlying issue of whether the execution method is constitutionally appropriate.

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