BONNE TERRE, Mo. – The state of Missouri executed Ernest Johnson Tuesday night for the 1994 slayings of three convenience store employees despite widespread pleas for leniency citing his intellectual disability.
Johnson, 61, died by lethal injection at 6:11 p.m. at the state prison in Bonne Terre, according to a prison statement. The execution marked the state’s first since May 2020 and only the seventh conducted nationwide in 2021.
His request to die by firing squad was denied by the Missouri Supreme Court in August.
Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of Corrections provided KCTV with Johnson’s last statement.
The state moved forward with Johnson’s execution despite claims by his attorney that doing so would violate the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits executing intellectually disabled people.
Attorney Jeremy Weiss said Johnson, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, had a history of scoring low on IQ tests and lost about 20% of his brain tissue when a benign tumor was removed in 2008, The New York Times reported.
At trial, however, prosecutors argued that Johnson used a claw hammer to fatally bludgeon a manager, Mary Bratcher, 46, and employees Mabel Scruggs, 57, and Fred Jones, 58, during a closing-time robbery at Casey’s General Store in Columbia, NBC News reported.
The victims were also shot, and Bratcher was stabbed in the hand with a screwdriver, NPR reported.
According to court documents, Johnson was stealing money for drugs when he carried out the murders on Feb. 12, 1994.
A representative for Pope Francis was among those who urged Republican Gov. Mike Parson to grant clemency, telling Parson in a letter that the pope “wishes to place before you the simple fact of Mr. Johnson’s humanity and the sacredness of all human life.” Parson announced Monday that he would not intervene, and the U.S. Supreme Court made a similar announcement less than two hours before Johnson was executed.
Meanwhile, racial justice activists and two Missouri members of congress — Democratic U.S. Reps. Cori Bush of St. Louis and Emmanuel Cleaver of Kansas City — also called on Parson to show mercy to Johnson, who is Black.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.