Thousands ask Gov. Parson to spare Missouri man set to be executed next week

Missouri News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri man convicted of killing three people more than 25 years ago is scheduled for execution next Tuesday. 

Dozens gathered at the statehouse Wednesday asking Gov. Mike Parson to halt the execution.

Earnest Lee Johnson is scheduled to die by injection next week, the first person to be executed in Missouri since May 2020. Nearly 25,000 people signed petitions delivered to the governor’s office Wednesday, asking Parson to grant him clemency because they say he’s intellectually disabled. 

Johnson is convicted of killing three people during a robbery of a Casey’s General Store in Columbia in 1994. 

“What Ernest did was wrong, but to kill Ernest would also be wrong,” Rev. Darryl Gray of the Progressive National Baptist Convention said at the rally inside the Capitol. 

All three workers were beaten to death with a claw hammer. One was shot in the face, and another stabbed with a screwdriver. 

“The murder of Mary Bratcher, Mable Scruggs and Fred Jones was a tragic, senseless act of violence,” Rita Linhardt with the Missouri Catholic Conference said.

“As people of faith, our hearts go out to the murder victims and their families.”

Bratcher was 46 years old, Scruggs was 57 and Jones was 58. The store was closing at the time of the robbery. 

“I don’t think that Ernest Johnson’s guilt or innocence is really a question,” President of Missouri NAACP and board chair of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Nimrod Chapel Jr. said.

“We’re asking that clemency be granted for Ernest Johnson, it’s the right thing. Allow him to live out the rest of his life incarcerated, but safe.”

The 61-year-old is scheduled to be executed Tuesday, but thousands signed petitions saying he’s intellectually disabled. 

“He currently meets the state’s statutory and clinical standards to be diagnosed with an IDD and therefore should be granted clemency from the death penalty in accordance with his Eighth Amendment rights,” Justice Gatson with the Reale Justice Network said. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits executing disabled people. 

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court said Johnson was mentally ill and the execution would be unconstitutionally cruel. During a second hearing in 2003, the Missouri Supreme Court scrapped the death penalty, but in 2006 he was sentenced to death. 

“Without action from Gov. Parson, Ernest Johnson’s story will not end in prison and will instead end in his execution by the state, an egregious and unconstitutional outcome,” Executive Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) ACLU of Missouri Luz Maria Henriquez said.

“The death penalty in the United States is the descendant of slavery, lynching and segregation.”

Johnson had previously asked for his execution to happen by a firing squad, but Missouri’s method is by lethal injection. The Mississippi County man had the might of a benign brain tumor removed in 2008 and an MRI later revealed 20% of his brain tissue was also removed. 

Demonstrators dropped off the signed petition at the governor’s office Wednesday. 

“We are absolutely asking that clemency be granted to save his life,” Chapel said. “Ernest Johnson poses no threat to other people in prison and we, in turn, pose no threat to him.”

Johnson’s execution is set to take place Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the state prison in Bonne Terre. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the case. 

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