By Carey Gillam
(Reuters) - Missouri officials on Tuesday were preparing to execute a Kansas City man convicted of killing a gas station attendant in front of the man's stepdaughter 20 years ago.
Leon Taylor, 56, is scheduled to be put to death at 12:01 a.m. CST Wednesday for shooting to death Robert Newton, 53, during a robbery at an Independence, Missouri, gas station in 1994. Taylor shot Newton in the head as Newton's 8-year-old stepdaughter watched. She testified that Taylor had tried to shoot her as well but the gun jammed.
Taylor's lawyers were seeking to halt the execution through several channels on Tuesday, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and a clemency petition to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
"I have hope until it's over," said Elizabeth Carlyle, one of Taylor's attorneys.
Taylor would be the ninth man put to death in Missouri this year.
Part of Taylor's appeal is tied to a 2002 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found only a jury - and not a judge - could impose a death sentence. Racial discrimination also played a role, according to Taylor's attorneys.
The mixed-race jury in Taylor’s first trial deadlocked on a sentence and a judge sentenced him to death. Taylor appealed and in a second punishment trial an all-white jury ordered the death sentence for Taylor, who is black.
"There are racial concerns throughout this case," said Carlyle. "He was an African-American man accused of killing a white man."
His attorneys also contend the execution should be postponed until there is a ruling in a lawsuit brought by several Missouri inmates, including Taylor, against the state over its lethal injection protocols.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Bill Trott)