Missouri Executed Ernest Johnson Despite Disability

Ernest Johnson
Ernest Johnson's final statement

Today, the state of Missouri executed 61-year-old Ernest Johnson at the state prison in Bonne Terre. Anti-death penalty organizers and some religious leaders rallied in support of Ernest prior to his killing as they cited the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bars the executions of people with intellectual disabilities. Ernest’s supporters like well-known anti-death penalty activist and spiritual advisor Sister Helen Prejean claimed he had the cerebral capacity of a third grader as he scored extraordinarily low on IQ tests since his childhood. According to an article by the Associated Press, “his attorney, Jeremy Weis, said Johnson also was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and lost about one-fifth of his brain tissue when a benign tumor was removed in 2008.” Despite Ernest’s demonstrated intellectual disabilities and struggles with seizures due to his loss of brain tissue, the Supreme Court swiftly denied Ernest and Weis’ application for writ of certiorari to stay the execution.

Ernest committed a brutal and horrific harm, participating in the 1994 robbery and murders of three people—Mary Bratcher, Mabel Scruggs, and Fred Jones—at a convenience store. He irrevocably altered their and their loved ones lives forever and those actions cannot be taken back. However, Ernest’s mental disabilities and his operating under the influence of drugs should’ve both been factored into the punishment imposed upon him. Furthermore, murdering Ernest at 61 years of age after he already expressed deep remorse over his actions will never bring back Mary, Mabel, or Fred. Killing Ernest only took another life and now devastatingly impacted his loved ones and supporters too. It’s easy to support saving people who were wrongfully convicted from executions or life sentences without parole. But it’s uncomfortable and painful to examine why people hurt other people, what led to those actions in the first place, and why we allow killings to take place in our names.

Executions are state-sanctioned murder. Politicians and judges (and are they not the same?) have the power to murder our neighbors without any punishment themselves. Executions consist of injecting people with cocktails of drugs that torture them until they die. No matter what any person has done, and I say this with my whole being, no one should ever be executed. States should never have the power to take someone’s life away. Famed lawyer and author Bryan Stevenson often says we must think not “Do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit?” but rather “Do we deserve to kill?” I wrote an entire post about the reasons why the death penalty should be abolished because I think we as a society need to stop advocating only for the people we pick because they “deserve” it and instead spend our time working to dismantle systems like the prison industrial complex and state and federal executions that perpetuate violence and murder against primarily Black and Brown people.

The Department of Corrections made available to the public Ernest’s final statement he wrote yesterday. In it he said (no edits to capitalization, grammar, or spelling), “I am sorry and have remorse for what i do. I want to say that i love my family and friends. I am thankful of all that my lawer has done for me. They made me feel love as if I was family to them. I love them all, for all the people that has prayed for me i thank them from the bottom of my. I love the Lord with all my heart and soul. If i am executed I no were I am going to heaven. Because i ask him to forgive me God everone. whit respect Ernest L. Johnson.”

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