Michael TAYLOR v. STATE of Missouri — (FindLaw)

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FindLaw                                 Michael TAYLOR, Appellant, v. STATE of Missouri, Respondent.

No. SC 88063.

— August 26, 2008

William J. Swift, Office of the Public Defender, Columbia, for Appellant. Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Theodore A. Bruce, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for Respondent.

Michael Taylor was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his cellmate at Potosi Correctional Center.   After his sentence was affirmed on direct appeal, he sought post-conviction relief.   He asserted, among other things, that the prosecuting attorney violated his due process rights by failing to disclose favorable impeachment evidence and that his trial attorneys provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel.   The motion court overruled the motion.

This Court concludes that the motion court clearly erred in overruling Mr. Taylor’s motion as to his claim for penalty phase relief.   The prosecution suppressed favorable impeachment evidence that it was plainly required to disclose to Mr. Taylor by Missouri’s discovery rules and an express order of the trial court.   Although this Court cannot conclude that the motion court clearly erred in concluding that this evidence was not material to Mr. Taylor’s conviction, the Court concludes that if the prosecutor had disclosed this favorable evidence, there is a reasonable likelihood that the outcome of the penalty phase proceeding may have been different.

Furthermore, this Court concludes that Mr. Taylor’s counsel provided him with ineffective assistance at the penalty phase.   The only mitigation testimony they presented at the penalty phase was from the superintendent of the correctional facility where Mr. Taylor was incarcerated, who testified that Mr. Taylor would present minimal risk to correctional officers and other inmates under his conditions of confinement.   In a prison murder case, where there was unutilized but abundant and compelling mitigation evidence regarding Mr. Taylor’s abusive upbringing and lifelong struggles with mental illness, this decision was constitutionally unreasonable.   Had trial counsel presented the available mitigation evidence, there is a reasonable likelihood that the outcome of the penalty phase proceeding may have been different.   The motion court clearly erred in concluding otherwise.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 1998, Mr. Taylor was incarcerated at Potosi Correctional Center after being sentenced to life without parole for committing first-degree murder and forcible rape of a high school classmate.   At Potosi, he was required to share a cell with Shackrein Thomas.   On October 3, 1999, just prior to the routine 10 p.m. inmate “count,” Mr. Taylor summoned the guards to his cell where they discovered Mr. Thomas’ body.

Mr. Thomas’ body was found on the cell floor with a bite mark in the middle of his back.   His right eye had been nearly dislodged from the eye socket.   There were abrasions present on his abdomen and left cheek, and his left eye was swollen.   Mr. Taylor admitted to strangling Mr. Thomas.   He stated to a department of corrections investigator that his “father” from the “dark side” had instructed him to “send” Mr. Thomas to him.   Appellant denied that this voice commanded him to kill Mr. Thomas, but he knew what sending Mr. Thomas to his father meant that he had to do.

On November 30, 1999, Mr. Taylor was transferred from Potosi Correctional Center to the Biggs Correctional Unit at Fulton State Hospital.   Biggs is a maximum security unit of the forensic psychiatric hospital.   Among its patients are individuals who have been charged with violent crimes and persons with severe mental illness who are in the custody of the department of corrections.   During his stay at Biggs, Mr. Taylor was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.   When Mr. Taylor was discharged from Biggs and returned to the department of corrections, his diagnoses were paranoid schizophrenia in partial remission and antisocial personality disorder.

This was not Mr. Taylor’s first indication that he was afflicted with mental health problems.   In 1986, Mr. Taylor, then age 7, first received a psychological examination at St. Louis University.   When Mr. Taylor was 9, he received outpatient treatment at Washington University’s adolescent psychiatry center for several months.   At age 10, his school counselor was called to intervene to bring Mr. Taylor off the ledge of an upper story window, where he was threatening to jump.   At age 12, Mr. Taylor received inpatient mental health treatment and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his father’s violent and abusive behavior, both toward Mr. Taylor and Mr. Taylor’s mother.   Around this same time, his family was sufficiently concerned about his well-being that they attempted an exorcism.   In 1998, while in prison for the murder of his high school classmate in 1995, Mr. Taylor was diagnosed with major depression with psychotic features.

Mr. Taylor’s case went to trial in January 2003.   The defense argued that although Mr. Taylor killed Mr. Thomas, he should be found not guilty by reason of a mental disease or defect that excused him from responsibility for the killing.  “A ‘not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect excluding responsibility’ ․ defense requires the defendant to comply with special notice provisions and injects into the case an issue on which defendant has the burden of proof.”  State v. Walkup, 220 S.W.3d 748, 756 (Mo. banc 2007).   In order to prevail on this defense, the defendant must show that at the time of the crime he lacked the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct.   Sec. 552.030.1.  “If defendant succeeds on his affirmative defense, he is absolved of criminal responsibility.”  Walkup, 220 S.W.3d at 756.   Consequently, the guilt phase evidence primarily consisted of expert testimony as to Mr. Taylor’s mental status.

The defense introduced testimony from five mental health experts:  Dr. John Rabun, a psychiatrist who evaluated Mr. Taylor for the purposes of determining his mental state at the time of the murder;  Dr. William Eikerman, a psychiatrist who treated Mr. Taylor at Biggs Correctional Unit at Fulton State Hospital;  Mr. Gary Selbert, a licensed counselor and the chief of mental health at Potosi Correctional Center;  Dr. Bruce Harry, a psychiatrist who treated Mr. Taylor at Biggs;  and Dr. Ahsan Syed, a psychiatrist at Biggs who treated Mr. Taylor in 1998.   These witnesses testified that Mr. Taylor was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia in which he had auditory hallucinations and committed delusional acts of self-mutilation and that Mr. Taylor was not malingering.   Of these five witnesses, only one, Dr. Rabun, testified that Mr. Taylor lacked the capacity to know and appreciate the nature, quality, or wrongfulness of his conduct at the time of the murder.   The parties also stipulated that the prison staff was administering Trazadone, an anti-depressant medication, to Mr. Taylor at the time of the murder, although there was evidence he was not taking it before the murder.

In rebuttal, the state introduced testimony from three experts:  Dr. Christy Blanchard, a clinical psychologist who administered a test to Mr. Taylor in October 2001;  Dr. Richard Scott, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Mr. Taylor’s competence to stand trial in 1996 for his classmate’s murder;  and Dr. David Vlach, a forensic psychiatrist who evaluated Mr. Taylor in fall 2001 to determine his competency to stand trial and in spring 2002 to determine his mental state at the time of the crime.   Dr. Blanchard testified that the personality test she administered to Mr. Taylor rendered invalid results that might suggest malingering.   Despite Mr. Taylor’s long history of mental health issues and treatment, Drs. Scott and Vlach both testified that Mr. Taylor suffered from no mental health problems, but rather was malingering.