Missouri Executes Convicted Killer Despite Clemency Pleading From Pope

(Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Madeline Dovi Contributor
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Missouri executed convicted killer Ernest Johnson despite clemency pleas that his life be spared from attorneys and Pope Francis, the state announced Tuesday.

Ernest Johnson, 61, was tried and convicted of killing three convenience store employees in a 1994 robbery, according to a statement by Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. He was killed by lethal injection in a state prison and pronounced dead at 6:11 p.m. local time, according to the Missouri department of corrections, NBC News reported.

Johnson’s attorneys argued he was ineligible for the death penalty because multiple IQ tests had shown he had the mental capacity of a child, according to a Supreme Court filing released Tuesday. (RELATED: Prosecutors Will Seek Death Penalty For Man Accused Of Shooting Atlanta Spa, Killing Eight)

Johnson was born with fetal alcohol syndrome due to his mother consuming alcohol while pregnant. He was also missing one-fifth of his brain tissue after a 2008 surgery to remove a brain tumor, according to attorney Jeremy Weis, NBC reported.

The 2002 Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia states that using the death penalty against Americans with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments,” according to court documents.

“To permit the State of Missouri to execute Mr. Johnson undermines this Court’s authority, and precedent and would represent a fundamental miscarriage of justice,” the court filing reads.

Pope Francis, former Democratic Missouri Gov. Bob Holden and Democratic Missouri Rep. Cori Bush joined those who voiced opposition to Johnson’s execution.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a representative for the Holy Father, shared support for Johnson in a letter last week, urging Parson to grant the inmate “some appropriate form of clemency,” NBC reported.

“His Holiness wishes to place before you the simple fact of Mr. Johnson’s humanity and the sacredness of all human life,” the letter read, according to Vatican News.

Parson confirmed that the state would carry out the execution “in accordance with the Missouri Supreme Court’s order” in a statement. He claimed  Johnson was competent to be put to death due to his repeated requests for appeals, all of which were denied by the court.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt stated in court documents that the nature of Johnson’s conviction in 1994 contradicts the claim that he was intellectually disabled.

“The facts of the offense plainly reflect the offender’s ability to plan, strategize, calculate, and scheme effectively,” the document stated.

Johnson’s execution was the first by Missouri prison officials since May 2020, as executions were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to NBC.