Missouri governor denies clemency to death row inmate

Missouri Governor Mike Parson on Monday refused to grant clemency to death row inmate Ernest Johnson, despite requests for clemency from the pope, two federal lawmakers and thousands of petitioners.

Johnson, 61, was convicted of killing three convenience store workers in a closing time theft in 1994. He is due to die by injection at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Bonne State Prison Land, approximately 80 kilometers south of St.. Louis.

“The state is ready to deliver justice and carry out the legal sentence Mr Johnson received pursuant to the Missouri Supreme Court order,” Parson, a Republican, said in a statement on his decision not to reduce the sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Jeremy Weis, Johnson’s lawyer, said he was “very disappointed” with the decision.

“We think we made a convincing point to him that it was the right moral decision and I guess he disagreed,” Weis said.

In a letter to Parson last week, a representative of Pope Francis wrote that the Pope “wishes to put before you the simple fact of Mr. Johnson’s humanity and the sanctity of all human life.”

It was not the first time that a pope sought to intervene in an execution in Missouri. In 1999, during his visit to St. Louis, Pope John Paul II persuaded Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan to grant clemency to Darrell Mease just weeks before Mease was put to death for a triple murder.

In 2018, Pope Francis Francis changed the teaching of the church to say that capital punishment can never be sanctioned because it constitutes an “attack” on human dignity. Catholic leaders have been overt opponents of the death penalty in many states.

Weiss said Johnson’s execution would violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the execution of people with intellectual disabilities. He said multiple IQ tests and other exams have shown Johnson to have the intellectual capacity of a child. He was also born with fetal alcohol syndrome and in 2008 he lost about 20% of his brain tissue due to the removal of a benign tumor.

Racial justice activists and two members of Congress from Missouri – U.S. Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of St. Louis and Emmanuel Cleaver of Kansas City – also called on Parson to show mercy on Johnson, who is black.

Bush said in a phone interview that black and Latino men are disproportionately likely to face the death penalty. She said that the execution of an intellectually disabled person makes the situation even worse.

“I hope the governor will look into the fact that it would be a crime against humanity,” Bush said.

The Missouri Supreme Court refused in August to stop the execution and on Friday it refused to resume the case. Weis and other Johnson lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday for a stay of execution.

“This is not a close affair – Mr Johnson is intellectually disabled,” they wrote in their court files.

Johnson admitted to killing three workers at a Casey’s general store in Columbia on February 12, 1994 – manager Mary Bratcher, 46, and employees Mabel Scruggs, 57, and Fred Jones, 58. The victims were shot and attacked with a claw hammer. Bratcher was also stabbed in the hand with a screwdriver.

At Johnson’s girlfriend’s house, officers found a bag containing $ 443, wrappers of coins, partially burnt checks and tennis shoes matching bloody shoe prints found inside the store.

Johnson had previously requested that his execution be carried out by a firing squad, but Missouri does not allow this method of execution. His lawyers have argued that Missouri’s lethal injection drug, pentobarbital, could trigger seizures due to loss of brain tissue.

Johnson was sentenced to death in his first trial and on two other occasions. The second death sentence, in 2003, came after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the execution of the mentally ill was unconstitutionally cruel. The Missouri Supreme Court handed down this second death sentence and Johnson was sentenced a third time in 2006.

If the execution goes as planned, it would be the seventh in the United States this year, but the first involving neither a federal inmate nor a Texas prisoner.

The peak year for modern executions was 1999, when there were 98 in the United States. according to a database compiled by the Information Center on the Death Penalty.

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