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Parson: Ernest Lee Johnson’s death sentence will be carried out this week

Ernest Lee Johnson’s death sentence will be carried out Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson said, despite calls from advocates, lawmakers, and religious leaders to issue a stay.

“The state is prepared to deliver justice and carry out the lawful sentence Mr. Johnson received in accordance with the Missouri Supreme Court’s order,” Parson said in a statement. 

Johnson, convicted of killing three people during a convenience store robbery in 1994, had about one-fifth of his brain tissue removed in 2008 to treat a brain tumor. The tumor was not fully removed, and he suffers from epilepsy and “painful seizures,” his attorneys have said. 

In August, the Missouri Supreme Court said Johnson was eligible for the death penalty and denied his request to be executed by firing squad. 

Ernest Johnson — who killed three people during a robbery of a Columbia convenience store in 1994 — sought an alternative to the lethal injection of pentobarbital, arguing the drug coupled with his brain tumor would cause painful seizures.

Advocates have rallied to ask Parson to intervene in the death sentence in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s planned execution. Through a diplomatic representative, Pope Francis implored the governor to halt the execution, and activists delivered an estimated 25,000 signatures on a clemency petition to Parson last week. 

“We are disheartened to learn that Gov. Parson intends to move forward with the execution of Mr. Johnson,” Elyse Max, executive director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (MADP), told The Missouri Times. “We need to deeply reconsider the use of murder as a punishment in Missouri. There is no justice happening here; we are only serving to create more victims.”

Former Gov. Bob Holden and former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael A. Wolff are among those who have advocated for Parson to stop the execution.

“By all statutory and clinic definitions, Ernest Johnson is an intellectually disabled man, and accordingly, he should not be put to death,” said Rep. Rasheen Aldridge. “The state of Missouri gains nothing by executing Mr. Johnson. In fact, Missouri stands to lose if it goes through with this execution. Killing a Black, disabled man in defiance of the constitution sends a message to Missouri’s already traumatized Black communities that Missouri will go out of its way to kill Black people, and that its ability to use violence is aimed directly at Black men and women.”

Parson recently said he is on track to render more clemency petitions than any other governor in the past 40 years. He’s granted 168 pardons, 13 commutations, and denied 1,134 requests for clemency so far, according to his office. 

There are still 2,376 pending applications, his office said. 

In a news release announcing his decision to let the state carry out the death sentence, Parson said Johnson “went to great lengths to plan and conceal his crime.” The release said Johnson has received due process and noted multiple courts have rejected his claim that he is not competent to be executed.