Last-minute court intervention was the last obstacle to the execution of Ernest Johnson, a Missouri man convicted of killing three convenience store workers during a closing-time robbery nearly 28 years ago, reported ABC News.
Johnson, 61, was scheduled to die by injection tonight at the state prison in Bonne Terre, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of St. Louis. It would be the seventh U.S. execution this year.
Johnson's attorney, Jeremy Weis, said executing Johnson would violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits executing intellectually disabled people. On Monday, he asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution.
“This is not a close case — Mr. Johnson is intellectually disabled,” the court filing stated.
The Missouri Supreme Court in August, and again on Friday, refused to step in despite Johnson's history of scoring extremely low on IQ tests, dating back to childhood. Weis said Johnson also was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and lost about one-fifth of his brain tissue when a benign tumor was removed in 2008.
Republican Gov. Michael Parson on Monday declined to grant clemency despite the urging of several people, including the pope. A representative for Pope Francis wrote in a letter to Parson last week 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 he would not intervene.
It wasn't the first time a pope has sought to intervene in a Missouri execution. In 1999, during his visit to St. Louis, Pope John Paul II persuaded Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan to grant clemency to Darrell Mease, weeks before Mease was to be put to death for a triple killing. Carnahan, who died in 2000, was a Baptist, as is Parson.
In 2018, Pope Francis Francis changed church teaching to say capital punishment can never be sanctioned because it constitutes an “attack” on human dignity. Catholic leaders have been outspoken opponents of the death penalty in many states.
Racial justice activists and two Missouri congressional members — Democratic U.S. Reps. Cori Bush of St. Louis and Emmanuel Cleaver of Kansas City —have also spoke out in support of Johnson, who is Black. Bush planned to attend a prayer vigil near the prison on Tuesday.
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