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U.S. Supreme Court intervention is Ernest Johnson's last hope

Execution set for Tuesday 6 p.m.
Ernest Johnson
Posted at 10:54 PM, Oct 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-05 00:16:45-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This may be the final night Ernest Johnson experiences in his life — he has spent much of it behind bars.

The 61-year-old is convicted of killing three convenience store workers during a robbery in 1994.

Although Johnson has admitted he did it for drugs, his attorney argues Johnson had the IQ of a child at the time.

"So if you meet him, that he is an individual that is intellectually slow. Even the state's expert says he is of borderline intellectual disability," Jeremy Weis, Johnson's attorney, told KSHB 41 News.

And thus, executing Johnson by lethal injection would violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Weis has represented Johnson for 10 years.

"I would say he's scared, he's disappointed. And, you know, was hoping that we would be able to prevail," Weis said.

Last week, supporters delivered a petition with more than 23,000 signatures asking Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to spare Johnson's life.

"We don't understand why it would be so hard to reopen the case. Let the new evidence present itself. Listen to the medical experts in determining whether or not this is a constitutional violation," said Elyse Max, state director for Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

In asking the governor to grant clemency, Missouri representatives Emanuel Cleaver and Cori Bush said, "death sentences are not about justice. They are about who has institutional power and who doesn’t. Like slavery and lynching did before it, the death penalty perpetuates cycles of trauma, violence and state-sanctioned murder in Black and brown communities."

Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, also spoke about the struggles Johnson faces as a disabled Black man.

"We know if you're a person of color and if you suffer from an intellectual disability, if you're poor or a person of low means and can't afford very well qualified elite level lawyers to assist you with your case, that you're more likely to receive the death penalty than everybody else," Chapel said.

In a letter last week to Parson, a representative for Pope Francis expressed his "wishes to place before you the simple fact of Mr. Johnson's humanity and the sacredness of all human life."

But Monday evening the governor said in a statement, "The state is prepared to deliver justice and carry out the lawful sentence Mr. Johnson received in accordance with the Missouri Supreme Court's order."

With what little time he has left, others are still fighting for Johnson.

"We're saying don't kill a man that barely recognize why he's being killed," Chapel said.

Weis said he's mystified by the governor's decision but not surprised.

There's paperwork making its way through the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution — it's their last hope as the clock counts down.

The NAACP expects a vigil to take place ahead of the scheduled execution in St. Louis.

If the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't intervene, Johnson is set to die Tuesday at 6 p.m.