Ernest Johnson executed despite calls from Pope Francis and politicians


Missouri inmate Ernest Johnson was executed Tuesday for the murder of three people during the robbery of a convenience store in 1994, according to the Associated Press. His execution continued despite calls from politicians and even from Pope Francis, who asked for clemency for the man who lawyers say was intellectually disabled.

Johnson, 61, died in Missouri State Prison in Bonne Terre from an injection of pentobarbital, the AP reported. He was pronounced dead at 6:11 p.m. local time, making him the seventh person to die by execution in the country this year.

This undated photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Ernest Johnson. Missouri death row inmate Ernest Johnson was executed on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. Johnson killed three people in a 1994 robbery at a Columbia convenience store. His execution would only be the seventh in the United States this year.

Missouri Department of Corrections via AP

On February 12, 1994, Johnson was charged with using a gun and hammer to murder three employees at Casey’s General Store in Columbia, Missouri, during a robbery in which he attempted to steal money. money to pay for drugs, according to court documents.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson refuse Johnson’s clemency on Monday, saying the state was “prepared to deliver justice and carry out the legal sentence.” Just hours before Johnson received the lethal injection, the Supreme Court decreases to stop its execution.

Johnson’s attorney, Jeremy Weis, had previously argued in an affidavit in court that a lethal injection would pose “extremely painful” health complications for Johnson due to his pre-existing brain damage. According to a federal court petition, Johnson was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and a fifth of his brain tissue was removed when a tumor was removed in 2008.

“There is a substantial and unjustifiable risk that lethal injection drugs trigger violent and uncontrollable crises which are extremely painful and lead to ineffective and excruciating execution. Mr Johnson’s seizure threshold is significantly lower than that of the general population “said his lawyer. wrote in the complaint.

Johnson had asked to be executed by means other than lethal injection, but his appeals were dismissed and the Supreme Court earlier this year decreases to examine his petition.

Last week, a personal representative of Pope Francis urged Parson in a letter not to let “the atrocity of their crimes feed a desire for revenge” and “to stop the planned execution”.

“His Holiness wishes to bring before you the simple fact of Mr. Johnson’s humanity and the sanctity of all human life,” said the representative.

U.S. Representatives Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver also pleaded with Parson to stop Johnson’s execution, which was the first execution in the state since May 2020.

“As slavery and lynching have done before, the death penalty perpetuates cycles of trauma, violence and state-sanctioned murder in black and brown communities,” read a joint letter from the politicians in Parson. “We urge you to correct these injustices using all available tools, including the power to grant clemency.”

But Parson argued that Johnson had received due process, noting that his case had been reviewed by three juries, each recommending a death sentence, and that his complaint about intellectual disability had been considered and dismissed by the courts. six times.

Human rights organization Amnesty International USA called Johnson’s execution “a grave injustice and tragedy”.

“Executing a person with an intellectual disability is a violation of international law, and the United States Supreme Court set a precedent against such executions in 2002 with Atkins v. Virginie ”, Amnesty International USA noted. “No one should be liable to the death penalty, whatever the circumstances, but especially when it flagrantly violates established law.

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