KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal judge has rejected a 19-year-old’s request to attend her father’s execution next week in Missouri.
Johnson’s lawyers have appeals pending that seek to spare his life, and on Monday, the Missouri Supreme Court will hear arguments on why they should halt the execution.
Meanwhile, Johnson has requested that his daughter, Khorry Ramey, attend the execution, and she wants to be there. But a Missouri law bars anyone under 21 from witnessing an execution.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an emergency motion with a federal court in Kansas City. The ACLU’s court filing said the law barring under 21s serves no safety purpose and violates Ramey’s Constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes said he doesn’t discount Ramey’s allegations that not being able to attend the execution would cause emotional harm, but he argued that the state’s law does not violate her rights.
“I’m heartbroken that I won’t be able to be with my dad in his last moments,” Ramey said in a statement from Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
“My dad is the most important person in my life. He has been there for me my whole life, even though he’s been incarcerated. He is a good father, the only parent I have left. He has worked very hard to rehabilitate himself in prison. I pray that Gov. Parson will give my dad clemency.”
Johnson, now 37, has been incarcerated since Ramey was 2 years old. The ACLU said the two have been able to built a bond through visits, phone calls, emails and letters. Last month, she brought her newborn son to the prison to meet his grandfather.
“We are heartbroken for Khorry. Every aspect of this case is a tragedy, but we promise Khorry that we are not done fighting for her father,” Shawn Nolan, an attorney for Johnson, said in the MADP statement.
Johnson’s attorneys hope two motions going before the Missouri Supreme Court will put a stay on his execution. One motion is being brought by Johnson’s legal team, and the other by a prosecutor on behalf of the St. Louis Prosecutor’s Office.
Nolan said a special prosecutor assigned to the case last month found new evidence. Johnson’s attorney also argues racism played a role in the decision to seek the death penalty.
During Johnson’s first trial in 2007, the jury was in a deadlock, giving him the lesser offense of second-degree murder. Months later, a new jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.
“Our hope is that the Missouri Supreme Court will grant the stay to stop the execution and send this case back to the lower court for the evidentiary development so that the special prosecutor and us can present our evidence of racial basis in this case to the lower court,” Nolan said.
Many have hoped Gov. Mike Parson would step in and grant Johnson clemency, but earlier this week Parson said he will let the case go on as planned.
For more than a decade, Johnson has sat on death row after being convicted in 2007 for the killing of 46-year-old Kirkwood Police Sgt. William McEntee. Johnson was 19 at the time of the murder.
McEntee was one of the police officers sent to Johnson’s house on July 5, 2005, to serve a warrant for his arrest. Johnson was on probation for assaulting his girlfriend and police believed he violated probation.
After waking his 12-year-old brother, Joseph “Bam Bam” Long, the boy ran to his grandmother’s house next store where we began having a seizure and collapsed.
Johnson testified at trial saying that McEntee kept his mother from entering the house to help his brother. Bam Bam died later at the hospital.
Later that night, when McEntee returned to the neighborhood to check on a report of fireworks, Johnson shot McEntee, killing him.
“There’s not a request for the court to just vacate it [his sentence] and Kevin goes home, that’s not what happens,” Nolan said regarding what would happen if the Supreme Court stay the execution.
“We would go back to the circuit court, which is the trial court, and the special prosecutor will preset the evidence that he has uncovered in the last month that he has had the case.”
A special prosecutor was assigned to the case after a new law passed by the Missouri General Assembly last year allowing a prosecutor to file a motion to vacate and set aside a judgement if the convicted person “may be innocent or erroneously convicted.”
Johnson’s family is hoping these last-minute efforts halt his execution.
“Your past doesn’t define you; you can do something horrific in your past, but you can be a better person today,” Ramey said. “Even though he has all of this on his shoulders he’s going through all of this, he’s still trying to be there for his daughter and his grandson.”