Cruel and Unusual Punishment?
But, dozens of cases have challenged that choice in the past two years, including the Missouri case.
It began 17 years ago, at 7 a.m. on March 22, 1989, when Ann Harrison, 15, was standing in front of her home waiting for the bus to Raytown South High School in Kansas City.
"She was very musical. She played the flute in the band," said her mother, Janel, "and [was] just a very caring person."
At the same time, Michael Taylor and Roderick Nunley were on a two-day cocaine binge. They drove onto Manchester Avenue and saw Ann. When her school bus arrived minutes later, she was gone and only her purse, school books and flute remained.
A two-day search began for the honor student.
"There was that inkling in the back of our heads that she may not live through this," recalled Janel Harrison. "But you still have to do what you have to do, and that happened for two days."
Court records show the two men took Ann to Nunley's mother's house where they raped her, then forced her into the trunk of Nunley's car and stabbed her to death. Nunley abandoned the car a mile away with Ann's body inside.
"I'm wanting understanding, just understanding myself. You know, for 16 years, I've had to look at myself as a murderer with all the elements in my case: a murderer, a rapist, a kidnapper, the whole thing," Taylor explained. "I took a life or I was involved in a life being taken. I've had to look at myself and structure myself concerning that."
Two public defenders represented Taylor at his trial. But both left the Public Defender's Office before the trial ended. One of them was fired.
"And she didn't have no experience with death penalty or anything. And she wasn't even familiar with the Kansas City system," said Taylor's mother, Linda. "So I think from jumpstreet he didn't have a fair chance, just with his lawyer."
Taylor said his lawyers convinced him to plead guilty because it was the only way to avoid the death penalty.
But, Taylor and Nunley became the first two men to receive a death sentence in Jackson County despite pleading guilty.
"Instead of doing the kind of investigation that the Constitution had required since 1984, these attorneys told Michael's family to keep quiet about negative things in his past," said Taylor's current lawyer, John Simon. "That's the very sort of thing that everyone knows that a lawyer appointed in a capital case needs to know about."
A spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General's Office, John Fougere, responded, "I think anybody with, looking at that with reason, would see that he's had 15 years to argue his case, which would be, most would argue, more than enough to get his case in front of multiple juries."
The Missouri Supreme Court later ruled that the trial judge smelled of alcohol when he sentenced Taylor to death.
"It bespeaks a callous indifference to human life to show up to sentence somebody to death with the smell on your breath," said Simon. "It just isn't done."
The state Supreme Court granted him a new sentencing hearing where he again was sentenced to death. Taylor received an execution date of Feb. 1 before a federal appeals court stayed that execution in order to hear his latest appeal.
The state tried to have that ruling overturned, but the U.S. Supreme court upheld it.
Taylor and his lawyer are preparing more appeals, including challenging Missouri's use of lethal injection.
"We filed an action under it, alleging that, for various reasons, Missouri's use of the sequence of three chemicals, that is typical of American death penalty jurisdictions today, violated the 8th Amendment's prohibition on the use of cruel and unusual punishment," Simon explained.
Linda Taylor said, "God, why are they doing this? Why? We are creating nothing but more victims. And I don't know how many victims are being left behind, from what the state calls 'legalized killing,' executions."
On Thursday, KOMU will report on the grounds for Taylor's appeal, including the argument of cruel and unusual punishment.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week allowed other death row inmates to challenge how they are executed. But, the ruling did not refer specifically to the four Missouri inmates who are challenging the state's combination of chemicals used in lethal injections.