Appeals to delay lethal injection anger inmate

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- At peace with the state's plans to take his life this week, Michael Roberts fumed when told that attorneys had filed more appeals Monday in hopes of blocking his execution in the hammer slaying of a neighbor seven years ago.

"This is news to me," he said during a telephone interview from his Potosi Correctional Center holding cell. "Lawyers do what they want to do. I have tried and tried and tried, and they just file one thing after another behind my back.

"I want to be executed. I'm ready to go."

Roberts thinks he has spiritual forgiveness for killing Jennings grandmother Mary Taylor and robbing her of money to spend on crack cocaine. His chief concern: If the state lethally injects him as planned at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, will death -- and heaven -- come swiftly?

"I guess like every human being, you have some doubts about the unknown of the transition between Earth and heaven," he said. "There is no scriptures or anything that deal with the subject.

"I would say that the only thing I really haven't prepared myself for is knowing that in less than 48 hours, everything I've been, everything I've done, everyone I know and everything I've accomplished is all going to be gone."

If carried out, Roberts' execution would rank Missouri third among states in the number of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. Missouri and Florida each have executed 51 people, trailing Texas (252) and Virginia (82).

If the appeals and clemency are denied, Roberts, 26, would become the sixth person put to death by Missouri this year.

Won't discuss killing

Roberts says he's guilty of a lesser murder count -- not first-degree murder, as convicted -- because "I didn't deliberate, premeditate or plan anything" as prosecutors argued in winning the death sentence.

But he won't discuss the killing.

"Just trust me, it was a very horrible thing," he said.

According to his confession and court records, Roberts went to Taylor's home the night of Feb. 16, 1994, after he and friends ran out of crack cocaine and money. Roberts watched "Unsolved Mysteries" with 56-year-old Taylor, who knitted as Roberts petted her cat.

When Taylor asked Roberts to leave so she could sleep, Roberts hit the nursing home activities director 19 times with a hammer as she begged him and God for the attack to stop.

"The more she pleaded, the more angry it made me," Roberts said in a 105-minute videotaped confession played to jurors. "I wanted her to shut up."

Strangled and stabbed

Roberts rummaged through Taylor's purse before hearing the woman move. He kicked her in the head and side, telling her to be still. He ripped a telephone cord from the wall and pulled it tight around her neck. He tried strangling her with her nightgown.

She still breathed.

Roberts grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen and repeatedly stabbed her until the blade bent. He resorted to a butcher knife but thought it wasn't penetrating her clothes, so he filled a large soup pan and held her face under its water, his 350-pound frame against the woman's back.

An autopsy concluded that Taylor died of the hammer blows.

Roberts fled with an answering machine and more than $200 he and his friends used to buy and smoke more crack cocaine. He returned to Taylor's house to steal more valuables and her car, then later to call police after pretending to find the body.

"It's just a case in which I'm not surprised the death penalty was ordered," Attorney General Jay Nixon said Monday, citing what he called the slaying's "vile, horrible and inhumane set of facts."

'He'd better be prepared'

"You don't even feel comfortable going through the facts here they're so horrendous. This guy showed a gross indifference to human life," Nixon said. "He'd better be prepared to die. Instead of being so upset with lawyers, he should show some remorse."

At trial, Roberts' defenders asked for the killer's life to be spared, given his troubled, impoverished upbringing they said included mental, physical and sexual abuse by his father and years of untreated mental illness.

Among other things, Monday's appeal to the Supreme Court challenges a jury instruction not given during Roberts' trial and errors by Roberts' defense at trial, St. Louis attorney Rick Sindel said. Sindel considered the challenges a long shot with the high court, which twice has refused to hear Roberts' case.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Holden was still weighing a clemency request.

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