USA: SUPREME COURT HALTS EXECUTION OF ERNEST JOHNSON IN MISSOURI
November 3, 2015: The United States Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to Ernest Johnson on Tuesday evening, just as Johnson was set to be killed for the 1994 murder of three convenience store workers during a robbery.
The legal stay was granted by the Supreme Court as Johnson, who his lawyer says is mentally disabled, appeals his execution before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Johnson argues the execution drug could cause painful seizures because he still has part of a benign tumor in his brain. Surgery to cut out remaining parts of the tumor in 2008 forced doctors to remove up to 20% of his brain tissue. Missouri has been using pentobarbital as a single-drug method of execution since November 2013. Johnson's attorney, Jeremy Weis, said the combination of the remaining tumor and the fact that Johnson lost about one-fifth of his brain has left him prone to seizures. He also has difficulty walking, Weis said.
A separate appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court claimed his life should be spared because he is mentally disabled. Johnson was sentenced to death on June 20, 1995 over three counts of first-degree murder for killing 46-year-old Mary Bratcher, 57-year-old Mable Scruggs and 58-year-old Fred Jones during a closing-time robbery of Casey's General Store in Columbia on Feb. 12, 1994. Johnson wanted money to buy drugs, authorities said. Johnson grew up in a troubled home and Weis said his IQ was measured at 63 while still in elementary school.
Testing after his conviction measured the IQ at 67, still a level considered mentally handicapped. He was already on death row in 2001 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally handicapped was unconstitutionally cruel and on April 22, 2003 a new sentencing hearing was ordered. Johnson was again sentenced to death in 2003.
The Missouri Supreme Court tossed that sentence, too, forcing another sentencing hearing. In 2006, Johnson was sentenced to death for a third time.
Death penalty opponents held vigils around the state as they awaited Johnson's execution, hoping for last-minute clemency to be granted. (Sources: Associated Press, 03/11/2015)