Missouri man executed for killing 3 workers in 1994 robbery

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This undated photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Ernest Johnson.  Missouri death row inmate Ernest Johnson will be executed on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, unless the courts or Governor Mike Parson intervene.  Johnson killed three people in a 1994 robbery from a Columbia convenience store.  His execution would only be the seventh in the United States this year.  (the Missouri Department of Corrections via AP)

This undated photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Ernest Johnson. Missouri death row inmate Ernest Johnson will be executed on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, unless the courts or Governor Mike Parson intervene. Johnson killed three people in a 1994 robbery from a Columbia convenience store. His execution would only be the seventh in the United States this year. (the Missouri Department of Corrections via AP)

This undated photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Ernest Johnson. Missouri death row inmate Ernest Johnson will be executed on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, unless the courts or Governor Mike Parson intervene. Johnson killed three people in a 1994 robbery from a Columbia convenience store. His execution would only be the seventh in the United States this year. (the Missouri Department of Corrections via AP)

BONNE TERRE, Missouri (AP) – A Missouri man was put to death on Tuesday for killing three workers in a convenience store robbery nearly three decades ago, an execution carried out over objections from racial justice activists , legislators and even the Pope.

Ernest Johnson died following an injection of pentobarbital at Bonne Terre State Prison. He was pronounced dead at 6:11 p.m. It was the first execution in Missouri since May 2020 and only the seventh in the United States this year.

State executed Johnson despite claims by lawyer this would violate the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibits the execution of people with intellectual disabilities.

Johnson had a history of extremely low IQ test scores, dating back to childhood. His lawyer, Jeremy Weis, said Johnson was also born with fetal alcohol syndrome and lost about a fifth of his brain tissue when a benign tumor was removed in 2008.

A representative for Pope Francis was among those urging Republican Gov. Mike Parson to grant clemency, telling Parson in a letter that the Pope “wishes to put before you the simple fact of Mr Johnson’s humanity and character. sacred of all human life ”. Parson announced Monday that he would not intervene.

It was not the first time that a pope sought to intervene in an execution in Missouri. In 1999, during his visit to St. Louis, Pope John Paul II persuaded Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan to grant clemency to Darrell Mease, weeks before Mease was put to death for a triple murder. Carnahan, who died in 2000, was a Baptist, as was Parson.

In 2018, Pope Francis changed the teaching of the church say that capital punishment can never be punished because it constitutes an “attack” on human dignity. Catholic leaders have been overt opponents of the death penalty in many states.

Racial justice activists and two members of Congress from Missouri – U.S. Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of St. Louis and Emmanuel Cleaver of Kansas City – also called on Parson to show mercy on Johnson, who is black.

But Parson announced Monday that he would not grant clemency, and the courts have refused to intervene.

Johnson’s crime rocked the central Missouri city of Columbia almost 28 years ago.

Johnson was a frequent customer of a Casey general store. Court records show that on February 12, 1994, he borrowed a .25 caliber pistol from his girlfriend’s 18-year-old son, with the intention of robbing the store for money to buy drugs.

In a 2004 interview filmed with a psychologist shown in court, Johnson said he was under the influence of cocaine as he waited for the last customer to leave at closing time. Three employees were in the store: manager Mary Bratcher, 46, and employees Mabel Scruggs, 57, and Fred Jones, 58.

In the video, Johnson said he got angry when Bratcher, who claimed to not have a safe key, tried to flush her down the toilet. He shot the victims with the borrowed weapon, then attacked them with a claw hammer. Bratcher was also stabbed in the hand with a screwdriver. Police found two victims in the store’s bathroom and the third in a cooler.

“It was a horrible crime,” said Kevin Crane, the Boone County District Attorney at the time. “It was traumatic, and it was intense.”

Police officers searching a nearby field found a bloodied screwdriver, gloves, jeans and a brown jacket, and questioned Johnson within hours of the murders. At Johnson’s girlfriend’s house, officers found a bag containing $ 443, wrappers of coins, partially burnt checks and tennis shoes matching bloody shoe prints inside the store.

Johnson had previously requested that his execution be carried out by a firing squad. His lawyers have argued that Missouri’s lethal injection drug, pentobarbital, could trigger seizures due to loss of brain tissue when the tumor is removed.

Missouri law does not allow execution by firing squad.

Johnson was sentenced to death in his first trial and on two other occasions. The second death sentence, in 2003, came after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the execution of the mentally ill was unconstitutionally cruel. The Missouri Supreme Court handed down this second death sentence and Johnson was sentenced a third time in 2006.

Of the six previous U.S. executions this year, three took place in Texas and three involved federal prisoners.

The peak year for modern executions was 1999, when there were 98 across the United States. That number has gradually declined and only 17 people were executed last year – 10 involving federal prisoners, three in Texas and one each in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri, according to a database compiled by the Information Center. on the death penalty.


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