Missouri Lawmakers Urge Governor To Stop Execution Of Intellectually Impaired Black Man

 sent Missouri Governor Michael L. Parson a plea to stay the execution of Ernest Lee Johnson.
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Photos: Twitter

ST. LOUIS, MO — Friday, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01), Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (MO-5) sent Missouri Governor Michael L. Parson a plea to stay the execution of Ernest Lee Johnson.

The first execution in Missouri since May 2020, the Members are urging the Governor to recognize the cruelty of executing an intellectually disabled man, and grant him the humanity that everyone in Missouri deserves.

Johnson, who is missing a fifth of his brain and is intellectually disabled is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Tuesday, night at the state prison in Bonne Terre. He allegedly killed 46-year-old Mary Bratcher, 57-year-old Mable Scruggs, and 58-year-old Fred Jones in 1995 with a claw hammer. Prosecutors claim he was trying to score money to purchase drugs. In 2008, Johnson had surgery to remove a tumor in his brain, which his lawyer said led to the removal of 20 percent of his brain.

The scheduled execution have sparked protest from critics who say is would be cruel to put him to death given his intellectual disability. In their letter to Governor Parson, the lawmakers make a similar argument.

“Mr. Johnson’s execution would be a grave act of injustice,” the Members wrote. “[K]illing those who lack the intellectual ability to conform their behavior to the law is morally and legally unconscionable. Furthermore, Johnson was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008 and underwent brain tissue removal, according to court records. Scar tissue from the removal will likely cause him painful seizures after he is injected with pentobarbital, a seizure-inducing medication. For all of these reasons, we are staunch in our belief that Mr. Johnson should be granted clemency because he -- like any person -- is worthy of retribution and care.”

Further, the Members argued that, “Like slavery and lynching did before it, the death penalty perpetuates cycles of trauma, violence and state-sanctioned murder in Black and brown communities. We urge you to correct these injustices using every tool available, including the power to grant clemency.”

Since coming to Congress in 2021, Congresswoman Bush has been a national leader in the push for clemency reform. In February, the Congresswoman urged President Biden to use his pardon power to correct legacies of injustice in the clemency process. Most recently, in September she led her fellow progressive champions in requesting that Biden commute the sentences of those individuals released during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The full text of the letter can be found here or below.

Congresswoman Cori Bush sits on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, serves as the Progressive Caucus Deputy Whip, and proudly represents St. Louis as a politivist in the halls of the United States Congress.

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