Ernest Johnson, an intellectually disabled Black man from Missouri, has been executed.
The 61-year-old passed away on Tuesday, October 5, after receiving a lethal injection at Bonne Terre prison. He was given death penalty for three murders – Mary Bratcher, 46, Mabel Scruggs, 57, and Fred Jones, 58 – who he killed in a 1994 robbery.
However, attorneys for Johnson long argued he was ineligible for the death penalty due to his learning difficulties, said to have an average IQ of around 67. He was also born with foetal alcohol syndrome and lost around a fifth of his brain tissue when a benign tumour was removed in 2008.
Despite pleas from all over the world, including the Pope, the Supreme Court refused to consider a stay of execution, despite a 2002 ruling that stated executing Americans with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution, prohibiting ‘cruel and unusual punishments’.
Missouri US Reps. Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver noted this in a letter to the state’s governor Mike Parson last week, writing, ‘Killing those who lack the intellectual ability to conform their behaviour to the law is morally and legally unconscionable.
‘The fact of the matter is that these death sentences are not about justice. They are about who has institutional power and who doesn’t. Like slavery and lynching did before it, the death penalty perpetuates cycles of trauma, violence, and state-sanctioned murder in Black and brown communities.’
Jeremy Weis, Johnson’s public defender, told VICE, ‘Every expert that has testified, that has done an evaluation for purposes of trying to determine whether he’s intellectually disabled has unequivocally said that he is.’
A representative of Pope Francis also wrote to Parson, saying the pontiff ‘wishes to place before you the simple fact of Mr Johnson’s humanity and the sacredness of all human life,’ AP News reports.
However, preceding Johnson’s death, Parson said the state would ‘deliver justice and carry out the lawful sentence Mr. Johnson received in accordance with the Missouri Supreme Court’s order’, BBC News reports.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt also said Johnson’s murders ‘plainly reflect the offender’s ability to plan, strategise, calculate, and scheme effectively.’
In his final written statement, Johnson apologised for his actions and said he had ‘remorse for what I do’. He was pronounced dead at 6.11pm, October 5.