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October 5, 2021

Missouri completes execution of inmate who claimed to be intellectually disabled

As reported in this NBC News piece, "Missouri on Tuesday executed Ernest Johnson, despite claims by his attorney and death penalty opponents that he had an intellectual disability and killing him violated the Constitution." Here is more:

Johnson, 61, who was convicted in the murders of three convenience store employees almost three decades ago, was executed by lethal injection at a state prison in Bonne Terre. He was pronounced dead at 6:11 p.m. local time, a spokeswoman for the state department of corrections said.

Pope Francis, two members of Congress and former Democratic governor Bob Holden were among those who spoke out against the execution.

On Monday Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, denied Johnson clemency and said the state would carry out the execution. The U.S. Supreme Court denied an application for a stay of execution Tuesday.

In a filing to the high court Tuesday, Johnson's legal team reiterated IQ tests have indicated he had the intellectual capacity of a child and wrote that there would be "no tangible harm" if his execution was delayed while questions over whether lower courts had "constitutionally considered" his disability were further explored.

As revealed in this SCOTUS order, no Justices dissented from the denial of a stay and denial of cert before the execution.

October 5, 2021 at 09:08 PM | Permalink


There were dissents in the earlier case on the means of execution.


Posted by: Joe | Oct 5, 2021 9:46:25 PM

Yep, but October seems different May when those were filed. If states want to move forward with executions, it seems like this current set of Justices will not be eager to get in way.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 5, 2021 10:48:44 PM

The current majority wasn't very interested in getting in the way then either. The main difference is the lack of a dissent.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 5, 2021 11:23:02 PM

Oh no, Breyer, Sotomayor, or Kagan didn't dissent. Well, it's clearly their fault this guy's dead then. Not, you know, the bloodthirsty reactionaries who ordered or refused to halt the execution.

Posted by: kotodama | Oct 6, 2021 10:19:10 AM

What the story omits is that the potential to claim an intellectual disability has been around for years (at least as long as Johnson was raising the method of execution claim). He filed a motion to recall the mandate on his direct appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court in 2015 raising the issue, but waited until June to file a separate state habeas petition (which was denied in August). Given that he could have filed the state habeas six years ago and have been pursuing federal review on that claim for the last six years, it does not seem unreasonable for the courts to decline to delay his execution due to his own decision to delay pursuing this claim.

Posted by: tmm | Oct 6, 2021 10:32:15 AM

The story is not a complete legal analysis of his case.

It spells out the basics of what happened, including him being executed even though an intellectual disability claim was made and so forth.

It does state that the lawyers "reiterated" something. That might be interpreted to mean that they ... well the word suggests they said it before.

I don't know all the procedural choices that were made & the lawyers (or others) probably can at least partially justify the choices made based on the openings left open by the current appellate process. [See, e.g., the application for stay of execution.]

Given the state of the law, I understand the final result here, though my idiosyncratic belief is that before the U.S. Supreme Court gives the final okay to execute someone that a brief discussion on the final legal judgments is warranted with a dissent often appropriate as well. That's an aside on my part.

Anyway, I might say it was not "unreasonable" to do such and such & still think before you execute someone, a bit more should be said. I realize the narrow nature of the comment but then the article is also not meant to be a complete legal analysis of the situation either.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 6, 2021 11:04:19 AM

I'll cop to not following all the procedural niceties, but whatever his lawyers did or didn't do still in no way absolves the main bad actors here—the bloodthirsty reactionaries.

Posted by: kotodama | Oct 6, 2021 11:07:23 AM

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