TENNESSEE (USA): MAN EXECUTED 29 YEARS AFTER KILLING THREE
December 2, 2009: Tennessee executed a man who had served nearly three decades on death row for killing three people during a shooting spree at a Nashville convenience store.
Hours before Cecil Johnson, 53, was pronounced dead at 1:34 am (0734 GMT), two US Supreme Court justices engaged in a sharp exchange over whether to grant a stay of execution to the alleged killer 29 years after his crime. Last-minute efforts to grant him clemency or stop the execution failed.
"The delay itself subjects death row inmates to decades of especially severe dehumanizing conditions of confinement," wrote veteran Justice John Paul Stevens.
"There was no physical evidence tying Johnson to the crime," he added, noting that it was not until 1992 that Tennessee finally granted Johnson access to "substantial evidence undermining key eyewitness testimony against him."
Johnson had been convicted for murdering Bobby Bell, the store owner's 12-year-old son, and two men sitting in a nearby taxicab.
One of the high court's most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, recalled that Stevens, 89, had protested last month against the state of Virginia's plans to execute a convict before he had exhausted all possibilities to challenge his sentence.
"In Justice Stevens' view, it seems the state can never get the timing just right. The reason, he has said, is that the death penalty itself is wrong," Thomas said, blaming Johnson for the long delay.
"As long as our system affords capital defendants the procedural safeguards this court has long endorsed, defendants who avail themselves of these procedures will face the delays Justice Stevens laments."
A convict spends an average of 12 years on death row in the United States before being executed.
Johnson was the 49th person to be executed this year in the United States and the sixth in Tennessee since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. (Sources: Afp, 02/12/2009)