Missouri Governor Mike Parson has refused to halt the execution of an intellectually disabled man, even as frantic mercy petitions poured in on behalf of the Pope, two federal lawmakers and thousands of petitioners.
On death row, 61-year-old Ernest Lee Johnson is to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Bonne Terre state prison in downtown Missouri. Mr Johnson was convicted on 12 February 1994 of murdering three people during a closure at a convenience store.
Announcing Mr Johnson’s execution order, Republican Governor Parson said: “The state stands ready to deliver justice and fulfill the legal sentence Mr Johnson received as ordered by the Missouri Supreme Court.”
Mr Johnson’s lawyer, Jeremy Weiss, was disappointed with the court’s decision, saying the defendants made a very compelling case because it was the “right moral decision” to halt the execution. “I think he (Mr. Parson) disagreed,” Mr. Weiss said.
Multiple Intelligent Quotient (IQ) tests and other examinations have proved that Mr Johnson has the intellectual potential of a child, with Mr Weiss arguing to withhold the execution bid. Mr Johnson was also born with defects caused by fetal alcohol syndrome – a condition that directly affects the baby in the womb due to the mother’s increased exposure to alcohol during pregnancy.
His lawyer said that in 2008, Mr Johnson suffered a stroke after losing 20 percent of his brain tissue due to the removal of a benign tumor.
All of these combined to prove that Mr Johnson’s execution, despite an intellectual disability, would violate the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution – which bans the execution of people with intellectual disabilities.
The execution order comes a week after Pope Francis’ representative valued compassion and human life for Mr Johnson. “Want to lay before you the simple fact of Mr. Johnson’s humanity and the sanctity of all human life,” the Pope urged.
In strong opposition to the death penalty, Pope Francis changed the teaching of the Church, saying that the death penalty is an “assault” on human dignity and can never be sanctioned. This was echoed by several Catholic leaders who have condemned the death penalty orders in several states.
The case has faced criticism for its racial bias towards Mr Johnson who is black.
It’s two congressmen and Missouri racial justice activists calling on the governor to show mercy to Mr Johnson, an intellectually disabled person.
Democratic US Representative Corey Bush of St. Louis and Emmanuel Cleaver of Kansas City are hoping governors will note that killing Mr Johnson would be a “crime against humanity”.
Ms Bush said black and Latino men are more likely to face the death penalty, but the mental state of the person at trial makes it worse.
Mr Johnson’s case has traveled the courts for nearly 28 years and has seen at least three death sentences at trial – in 2003 and 2006.
Courts have entered into the felony murder of three of Mr Johnson’s store employees, including manager Mary Bratcher, 46, and employees Mabel Krugs (57) and Fred Jones (58), who shot the three with claw hammers Was. Mr Johnson also hit the manager with a screwdriver.
The court had earlier refused to stay the execution in August and refused to take up the matter again on Friday. Mr Weiss, Johnson’s lawyer, had moved the US Supreme Court to intervene in the case and stop the death penalty.
“This is not a close case – Mr Johnson is intellectually disabled,” he told the court.
If this is done, Mr Johnson will be the seventh person in the US to be executed in 2021.
(with additional reporting from agencies)
Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Missouri