Missouri to execute Kevin Johnson despite daughter’s pleas and findings of racist conviction
The state of Missouri plans to execute Kevin Johnson, 37, on Tuesday evening for the 2005 murder of a police officer, despite a special prosecutor’s findings that “there was racial discrimination infecting this prosecution.”
On Monday, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against staying the execution while lower courts considered evidence of bias in the conviction.
“There simply is nothing here that Johnson has not raised (and that this Court has not rejected) before and, even if there were, Johnson offers no basis for raising any new or re-packaged versions of these oft-rejected claims at this late date,” the justices wrote in their five-to-two ruling.
Johnson was convicted in 2007 for shooting police sergeant William McEntee, a father of three, on 5 July 2005, whom he mistakenly believed had killed his younger brother with a heart defect earlier that day.
The 37-year-old admits his guilt, but argues his prosecution was tainted by misconduct.
Special prosecutor EE Keenan, appointed by local officials in October, argued that he had uncovered evidence of racism in the jury selection process that led to Johnson’s death sentence.
The Kansas City attorney also pointed to a disturbing trend in St Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch’s office, which handled five cases involving slain police officers over three decades. The prosecutor sought the death sentence in four of the cases, which involved Black defendants, but declined to seek capital punishment in a fifth case involving a white suspect named Trenton Dorster.
“There is no benefit to the public in rushing this execution forward tomorrow,” Mr Keenan argued in court. “What staying this execution will do is allow the legal process to proceed and, whatever the outcome is, it will ensure the public can have confidence that if we have a process or the death penalty that is carried out equitably and in a way the public can have confidence in.”
Mr McCulloch, the son of a slain police officer himself, denied any bias in Johnson’s case or any other.
“Show me a similar case where the victim was Black and I didn’t ask for death,” he was told St Louis Public Radio earlier this month. “And then we have something to talk about. But that case just doesn’t exist.”
Mr Johnson’s lawyers heavily criticised the verdict.
“The Prosecutor in this case had requested that the Court stop the execution based on the compelling evidence he uncovered this past month establishing that Mr Johnson was sentenced to death because he is Black,” Shawn Nolan said in a statement to CNN. “The Missouri Supreme Court unconscionably refused to simply pause Mr Johnson’s execution date so that the Prosecutor could present this evidence to the lower court, who refused to consider it in the first instance given the press of time.”
State officials said the appeals body made the right call.
"Mr Johnson has received every protection afforded by the Missouri and United States Constitutions, and Mr Johnson’s conviction and sentence remain for his horrendous and callous crime. The State of Missouri will carry out Mr Johnson’s sentence according to the Court’s order and deliver justice," Governor Mike Parson said on Monday in a statement. "The violent murder of any citizen, let alone a Missouri law enforcement officer, should be met only with the fullest punishment state law allows.”
The last-minute injection of new evidence isn’t the only unique thing about Johnson’s case.
His daughter, Corionsa “Khorry” Ramey, 19, battled with state corrections officials to be allowed into the execution chamber as a witness, which is normally restricted to those aged 21 and up.
Last week, a federal court struck down Ms Ramey’s request.
The teen, whose mother was murdered in front of her when she was four years old, argues the state has deprived her of the chance to say goodbye to her only living parent.
“I have suffered so much loss in my life — first I lost my father to prison when I was two, and then I watched my mother’s ex-boyfriend murder her when I was only four years old,” Ramey wrote in another court filing. “It is excruciating to know that I am about to lose my father all over again.”
As he prepared for his execution on Tuesday evening, Johnson told news outlets he was “unconditionally sorry” for shooting Sergeant McEntee and wished he could’ve been with his daughter.
“I’m 100 per cent remorseful and I hate myself for July 5, 2005,” he told The Kansas City Star.
“How do I tell my own baby girl that you’ll never hear my voice again?” he added.
“I planned to give her this long endearing farewell talk but every time I looked into her eyes I just couldn’t,” continued. “She means the world to me and I hate not being there for her.”
Critics said the execution is one in a long line of injustices and racism that accompany capital punishment.
“We must end the death penalty in America,” activist Martin Luther King, III said of the case in a statement. “It is a cruel, unjust, and inhumane tool levied against people of color."
Johnson’s death warrant begins at 6pm on Tuesday, 29 November, and he will be executed at the ERDCC Prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri.
The state has two more killings scheduled for the next three months, with the execution of Scott McLaughlin in January and Leonard Taylor in February.
The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.