Johnny Johnson

Johnny Johnson is set to be executed by lethal injection at 6:00 pm local time on August 1, 2023 at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

(Photos: Missouri Department of Corrections)

US Supreme Court Declines to Halt Execution of Missouri Man With 'Severe Mental Illness'

"There is no place for the death penalty in a humane society," said Rep. Cori Bush, who urged the GOP governor to intervene in Johnny Johnson's case.

Update (9:58 pm ET):

The state of Missouri killed 45-year-old Johnny Johnson with a lethal injection of pentobarbital at 6:33 pm local time Tuesday after the right-wing majority of the U.S. Supreme Court declined to halt his execution.

Johnson expressed remorse in a handwritten statement released before he was executed. As The Associated Pressreported:

"God Bless. Sorry to the people and family I hurt," Johnson's statement said.

As he lay on his back with a sheet up to his neck, Johnson turned his head to the left, appearing to listen to his spiritual adviser shortly before the injection began. He then faced forward with his eyes closed, with no further physical reaction.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissent joined by the Supreme Court's other two liberal members—Ketanji Brown Jackson and Elena Kagan—that "executing a prisoner who has lost his sanity has, for centuries, been branded inhumane."

"The court today paves the way to execute a man with documented mental illness before any court meaningfully investigates his competency to be executed," she continued. "There is no moral victory in executing someone who believes Satan is killing him to bring about the end of the world. Reasonable jurists have already disagreed on Johnson's entitlement to habeas relief. He deserves a hearing where a court can finally determine whether his execution violates the Eighth Amendment. Instead, this court rushes to finality, bypassing fundamental procedural and substantive protections."

Law Dork's Chris Geidner explained that "the trio dissented from the denial of the stay application, as well as the denial of certiorari. So, they not only are asserting that Johnson shouldn't die tonight; they also think SCOTUS should have taken up his case."


Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in on Tuesday, Missouri is set to kill 45-year-old Johnny Johnson by lethal injection at 6:00 pm local time after Republican Gov. Mike Parson declined to halt his execution despite concerns about competency.

Johnson's legal team has submitted three petitions to the nation's highest court. While "the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that a person cannot be executed if they lack an understanding of the reason for their pending execution, Law Dork's Chris Geidner noted Monday, "the six-justice conservative majority has not been receptive to death penalty stay requests."

Along with Johnson's attorneys, U.S. lawmakers, human rights campaigners including Amnesty International, and other opponents of capital punishment have long argued against executing the Missouri man, highlighting his mental health history.

Members of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty gathered at the Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday to protest Johnson's looming execution and delivered a petition with more than 3,000 signatures to the governor's office.

"It is egregious to execute someone who does not understand the reason for their execution," Elyse Max, the group's co-director, told the television station KRCG. "It's not a punishment if they don't associate them being murdered by the state with the crime."

Max added that "he should be kept in a medical institution, that could prevent further atrocities from happening and help Johnny to cope with his schizophrenia, command hallucinations, and other issues that come with his severe mental illness."

As two Missouri Democrats in Congress, Reps. Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver, wrote to Parson on Friday:

Mr. Johnson has suffered from severe mental illness and cognitive impairments his entire life. He has organic brain disorder and experienced a brutally traumatic and adverse childhood that involved psychiatric hospitalizations, and suffers from schizophrenia that consistently features hallucinations, delusions, and psychotic disorganized thought. He was in the grips of active psychosis when he committed the offense for which he is scheduled to be executed. He currently believes that the reason for his execution is that Satan is using the state of Missouri to bring about the end of the world.

Mr. Johnson has a lengthy history of seeking treatment, including through hospitalization, that establishes the long-standing nature of the diseases and inability of medication to adequately treat them. He has received numerous diagnoses, including schizophrenia, major depression, psychotic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Nothing about his life history suggests he is currently malingering or otherwise faking his symptoms.

There is extensive evidence that Mr. Johnson does not have a rational understanding of the reasons for his execution. As such, he is entitled by the Constitution to a "fair hearing" to assess his competency. This is true notwithstanding the Missouri Supreme Court's flawed ruling relying on a single affidavit by a prison therapist over the competency evaluation and report by a licensed psychiatrist.

Bush and Cleaver stressed "the moral depravity of executions" and warned that killing Johnson "would simply destroy yet another community while using the concepts of fairness and justice as a cynical pretext and likely in violation of the Eighth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution."

Parson on Monday rejected calls by the federal lawmakers and others that he halt the execution, order a competency hearing, and grant clemency, saying that "Johnny Johnson's crime is one of the most horrific murders that has come across my desk."

After being released from a mental hospital in January 2002, Johnson was staying with family friends in Valley Park that July and killed their 6-year-old daughter, Casey Williamson. A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, armed criminal action, kidnapping, and attempted rape in January 2005 and two months later a judge sentenced him to death.

"Casey was an innocent young girl who bravely fought Johnson until he took her life," said Parson. "My office has received countless letters in the last few weeks seeking justice for Casey. Although this won't bring her back, we hope that carrying out Johnson's sentence according to the court's order may provide some closure for Casey's loved ones."

As The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday after speaking with the child's parents, Angie Wideman and Ernie Williamson:

Williamson was quoted in a clemency application, filed by Johnson's lawyers, saying he did not want Johnson executed.

But in an interview with the Post-Dispatch, Williamson said those quotes didn't accurately represent what he wants to happen.

"I never said I didn't want Johnny Johnson to die," he said. "I would love to see him die a miserable death."

Williamson said he doesn't support capital punishment. Having spent time himself as an inmate at Potosi Correctional Center, where Johnson is housed, Williamson said death row inmates suffer far more alive than dead.

Larry Komp, one of Johnson's attorneys, said their hearts go out to Casey's family but said "the clemency petition is faithful to the statements of everyone quoted in it."

The governor's denial came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit on Saturday reversed a stay granted last week by a three-judge panel from that court.

If Johnson is executed Tuesday evening at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, he will be the fourth person killed by Missouri this year, following Amber McLaughlin on January 3, Leonard Taylor on February 7, and Michael Tisius on June 6.

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