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US death row inmate Ernest Johnson executed by lethal injection

The US state of Missouri executes convicted murderer Ernest Johnson on Tuesday evening despite pleas for clemency by Pope Francis, among others, on the grounds that Johnson was intellectually disabled.

By Vatican News staff reporter

There was to be no clemency for 61-year-old Ernest Johnson who was executed by lethal injection in Missouri on Tuesday for killing three convenience-store employees in 1994.

Pleas for clemency

Writing “as the personal representative” of Pope Francis and “in the Holy Father’s name", the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, had asked Missouri governor Mike Parson “to halt the planned execution” of Ernest Johnson “and grant him some appropriate form of clemency.”

A number of politicians, including former Missouri Governor Bob Holden, and U.S. Representatives Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver II, both Democrats representing Missouri, had asked for his life be spared.

Intellectual disability

Mr. Johnson’s lawyers argued there was overwhelming evidence of his intellectual disability. They asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to halt the execution because executing intellectually disabled people breaches a constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishments."

The Supreme Court denied Johnson's petition in a brief unsigned order late Tuesday afternoon. The Missouri Supreme Court had already rejected Johnson's intellectual disability claim in August.

"Mr. Johnson's claim that he is not competent to be executed has been reviewed and rejected by a jury and the courts six different times, including a unanimous decision by the Missouri Supreme Court,” Governor Parson's office said in a statement.

Johnson was born with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, scored low on IQ tests throughout his life, and had the mental capacity of a child, his lawyers said.

Remorse

In a written statement dated Monday, Ernest Johnson expressed remorse for his crimes, and thanked those who had supported and prayed for him. The statement contained misspellings.

“I am sorry and have remorse for what I do,” he wrote. “I want to say that I love my family and friends. I am thankful of all that my [lawyer] has done for me. They made me feel love as if I was family to them.”

The statement added: “I love the Lord with all my heart and soul. If I am executed I no [sic] were I am going to heaven. Because I ask him to forgive me.”

Death penalty in US

More than 1,530 people have been executed in the U.S. since it reinstated the death penalty in 1976.  Ernest Johnson was the 91st person executed since then in Missouri.

06 October 2021, 12:13