Missouri cannot legally execute Ernest Lee Johnson, 61, on October 5. Because the Supreme Court has always held that killing someone so cognitively disabled would violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled last month that Johnson, who had part of his brain removed with a tumor in 2008, cannot be so disabled because he planned the murder at the 1994 closure of three employees of a Columbia convenience store – Mary Bratcher, Mable Scruggs and Fred Jones.
But former Missouri Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff ruled against the ruling: “Mr. Johnson is a person with such severe intellectual disabilities that a reasonable jury would not have recommended execution. By constitutional standards, his execution would constitute a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution as interpreted for decades in the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Because we met Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who has spent much of his time in office pretending COVID-19 is the same as a cold and Kevin Strickland is guilty of murder, we dare not not even hope that the proof that Johnson today has a child’s conscience could convince our governor to commute his sentence.
But when the state, our state, kills this man, as it almost certainly will, it will be another indictment against a system so bloodthirsty that it delights in taking revenge on those who don’t even know why they are punished.
As capital punishment opponent Sister Helen Prejean says, there are no millionaires on death row. And even among the culprits, there are few who have not themselves been mistreated or injured to the point of incapacitation.
In reinstating the federal death penalty last year, after a 17-year hiatus, then Attorney General William Barr said we would execute “the worst criminals.” Instead, those put to death personified almost every argument against capital punishment.
The 10 federal prisoners executed in 2020 – the most in a single calendar year for more than a century – included a man with such advanced Alzheimer’s disease he didn’t know why he was killed and two men who were teenagers at the time. of their crimes. On our behalf, the government executed a Native American whose crime was committed on tribal lands, despite the Navajo Nation, which should have had sovereignty, oppose the death penalty. We killed a black man convicted by an all-white jury. And a man with such a low IQ that he too should have been disqualified because he was functioning too poorly to be put to death.
Republican St. Louis McCloskeys obtained governor’s pardon
Parson has the power to stay Johnson’s execution and appoint a five-member commission of inquiry that would have the power to subpoena evidence and compel witnesses to testify. The council would then recommend to Parson whether Johnson should be executed or if his death sentence should be commuted to life in prison without parole.
Again, he won’t, as his compassionate reserves were spent to pardon St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey, the Republican candidate for the US Senate, and his wife Patricia, who pleaded guilty to assault afterwards. brandishing guns against Black Lives Matter protesters the last time around. year.
And no, this won’t be the first time that Missouri officials have ignored the U.S. Constitution in favor of a poll that says you can never go wrong in punishing the pathetic.
In 2015, Cecil Clayton, 74, was put to death despite severe mental illness, dementia and intellectual disabilities related to his advanced age. He also suffered serious brain damage from injuries sustained in a sawmill accident.
On July 16, 2014, John Middleton was put to death despite various mental health issues. The day before, a federal judge in Missouri suspended Middleton’s execution. The judge, Catherine Perry, feared that Middleton was mentally incompetent and ineligible for the death penalty. But Missouri officials executed him anyway.
In this week’s latest court case, Johnson’s legal defense team again argued that Johnson meets all legal and clinical definitions of intellectual disability. But Johnson does not have a mental disability and must die, argued Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office.
The crime of which Johnson was convicted was heinous. All three victims were beaten with a claw hammer. One was shot and another was stabbed with a screwdriver. All were found in a cooler inside the store.
When we kill this man, we’ll do what he did. But because of his brain tumor, the already weakened man who committed these murders no longer even exists. And we won’t let that stop us either, will we?
This story was originally published September 17, 2021 5:00 a.m.