Missouri Executes Ernest Johnson Despite Appeals Over his Intellectual Capacity

Missouri executed inmate Ernest Johnson on Oct. 5 for murder despite appeals from advocates who said he had an intellectual disability.

Johnson, a 61-year-old Black man, received lethal injection at a state prison in Bonne Terre after being convicted for the murder of three convenience store employees during a robbery in 1994.

At least two members of Congress and even Pope Francis had requested for clemency and spoke out against the execution, but it went forward after Republican Governor Mike Parson denied clemency a day earlier and the Supreme Court denied an application for a stay of execution on Oct. 5.

Attorneys for Johnson argued in a court document that killing Johnson would be a violation of the Constitution because IQ tests showed that he had the mental capacity of a child.

“This Court has said states simply cannot execute the intellectually disabled,” Johnson’s attorneys wrote, referring to the 2002  Supreme Court ruling on Atkins v. Virginia.

Attorney Jeremy Weis also said that Johnson was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and had been missing a fifth of his brain tissue since he underwent a surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2008.

Weis also previously argued that lethal injection would put Johnson at risk of severe and painful seizures due to his brain damage.

Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush said the execution “wasn’t justice,” but was “cruelty.”

Bush also pointed out the racial disparities of the death penalty, saying that “the killers of white victims are seven times more likely to receive the death penalty than the killers of Black victims.”

Human rights group Amnesty International USA called the execution “a grave injustice and tragedy.”

Johnson’s execution is the first by Missouri officials since May 2020, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.


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