Michael Brandon Samra and Donnie Edward Johnson were executed within four minutes of each other on May 16, 2019, in Alabama and Tennessee, respectively, reported The Marshall Project. Samra was convicted of capital murder and was sentenced to death for his role in the 1997 killings of Randy Duke, his fiancée, Dedra Mims Hunt, and her two daughters, 6-year-old Chelisa Nicole Hunt and 7-year-old Chelsea Marie Hunt. Randy Duke was the father of Samra's friend and co-defendant, 16-year-old Mark Duke.
The adults were shot to death, but court records state Mark Duke and Samra, then 19, slit the girls' throats with kitchen knives after they ran out of bullets.
According to court records, Mark Duke planned the murders after he got into a fight with his father over using a pickup truck. Mark Duke was also convicted and sentenced to death, but that sentence was later changed to life in prison without the possibility of parole because of Mark Duke's age at the time of the crime.
Johnson was sentenced to death for the Dec. 8, 1984 murder of his wife, Connie Johnson, in Memphis.
He suffocated his wife by stuffing a large plastic bag down her mouth in the offices of a camping equipment center where he worked, according to court documents. Johnson then asked an inmate on work-release at the camping center to help him move Connie Johnson’s body into her van.
They moved the body and left the van in a mall parking lot, where it was found the next day.
Donnie Johnson initially told police he was not involved in the murder, but he no longer contests his guilt. Instead, Johnson, now 68, says he should be spared because of how much he’s changed over the course of three decades behind bars.
In a clemency application submitted to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Johnson’s lawyers said he had gone from "a liar, a cheat, a con man and a murderer" to an ordained elder in the Seventh-day Adventist Church "with a flock in prison."
Johnson’s appeal for mercy leans heavily on his Christian faith and his relationship with his stepdaughter, Cynthia Vaughn, the victim’s daughter.
Vaughn initially condemned Johnson for killing her mother, at one point saying, "I want the freak to burn." But after meeting with Johnson in 2012, she forgave him and became the most compelling advocate in his fight to avoid execution. Vaughn has requested a meeting with the governor to make the case for mercy. Lee's Christian faith played a central role in his campaign for governor.
Johnson can decide if he will be executed by lethal injection or electric chair. His attorneys say he is postponing that choice until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a pending challenge to Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol.
Johnson was initially set to die by electrocution in 2006, but a federal appeals court delayed it days beforehand in order to vet a complaint about the main witness against him. Johnson’s legal team has said they don’t plan to make any other attempts to delay or block his execution aside from the petition for clemency.
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