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Pope calls for leniency for Missouri inmate


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Missouri’s last execution was in May 2020, when Walter Barton was put to death by lethal injection for fatally stabbing an 81-year-old woman in 1991.

Using a hammer as a weapon, Mr. Johnson killed three grocery store employees: Mary Bratcher, 46; Fred Jones, 58; and Mabel Scruggs, 57 — in Columbus, Mo., in February 1994 when he robbed the store for money to buy drugs, court documents say. A jury in Boone County, Mo., convicted him on three counts of first degree murder in 2005 and sentenced him to death, the documents say.

After several lawsuits over the years targeting Mr. Johnson’s intellectual tests and abilities, the state Supreme Court ruled in August that his memories of details of the crime demonstrated his ability to “plan, devise strategies, and solve problems – contrary to a finding of sub-average intelligence.”

Mr. Johnson was born in Steele, Mo., in 1960 and raised in Charleston, Mo., Ms. Bush and Mr. Cleaver wrote in their letter. His father was a tenant farmer, they said, and he was raised mainly by his grandmother.

Because of his mother’s addiction to alcohol and drugs, Mr. Johnson was born with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, Ms. Bush and Mr. Cleaver wrote. The Associated Press reported that up to 20 percent of Mr. Johnson’s brain tissue was removed during surgery in 2008 to remove a brain tumor.

“Mr. Johnson’s execution would be a grave act of injustice,” wrote Ms. Bush and Mr. Cleaver.

In an op-ed in The Kansas City Star on Sunday, Bob Holden, a former Democratic governor of Missouri, said he had sent a letter to Parson asking for a pardon for Johnson. Mr Holden said he supported the death penalty and noted that 20 men were executed during his term as governor, from 2001 to 2005.

“However, I also realize that there are unique occasions when the people of our state are wisely aided by the governor exercising the office’s leniency powers,” wrote Mr. holden. “The planned execution of Ernest Johnson on October 5 is, I believe, one such example.”

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