Missouri Executes Man After Supreme Court Declines To Intervene Over Question Of Intellectual Disabilities

Missouri officials executed a man who was convicted of murder on Tuesday after the Supreme Court denied his last-minute request for an extension. This ended a controversial case that has attracted attention from politicians as well as the pope.

The Missouri Department of Corrections provided this photo of Ernest Johnson. ASSOCIATED PRNS

The Key Facts

The Associated Press reported that Ernest Johnson died Tuesday night at 6:11 p.m. EST. He had been executed in a Missouri state prison with the lethal injection drug pentobarbital. Johnson's lawyers requested that the execution be halted by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier Tuesday. The Missouri Governor. Mike Parson, the Missouri governor, rejected a request for clemency from Johnsons attorneys to halt the execution earlier Tuesday. According to the 2002 Atkins v. Virginia decision, Johnsons lawyers claimed that their client had suffered from intellectual disabilities for decades. Laurence Komp was one of Johnson's lawyers and said to Forbes that he was disappointed by the Supreme Courts decision. He is deeply saddened by this execution. Forbes reached out to the state Department of Corrections for clarification but they did not respond immediately.

Important Background

Johnson was convicted for first-degree murder in 1994 for using a hammer and stabbing three convenience store workers. Johnson's case has been lingering for decades due to mental health concerns. Johnson's lawyers said that Johnson was born with fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and had difficulties in school. They also stated that Johnson has lower than average IQ scores and language skills. In 2008, doctors removed large amounts of Johnson's brain tissue after finding a tumor. The Missouri Supreme Court decided not to suspend Johnson's execution in August despite these concerns. They concluded that Johnson was not intellectually disabled enough because he was capable of planning, strategizing, and problem solving during the 1994 murders.

Chief Critic

Johnson's execution was opposed by a number of prominent Missouri politicians. They urged Parson not to carry it out. Emanuel Cleaver and Cori Bush, Democratic Representatives, called the execution planned for Johnson a grave act. Former Gov. Bob Holden (D), wrote an opinion piece in which he supported capital punishment but felt Johnson deserved clemency.

Surprising Fact

In a letter addressed to Pope Francis, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican's top envoy to America, urged Parson last week to grant pardon. According to the Vatican News, Pierre claimed that his request was motivated by Johnson's doubtful intellectual ability.

Surprising Fact

Johnson requested to be executed by firing squad. He claimed pentobarbital, a controversial drug used in executions, was dangerous because Johnson had epilepsy. Johnson's case was not heard by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the year. Three liberal justices were dissenting.


According to the Death Penalty Information Center, approximately 2,500 U.S. prisoners currently reside on death row. The vast majority were sentenced by state courts. After pressure from advocates, who claim that the death penalty is cruelly wrought with racial discrimination, the Biden administration issued a moratorium regarding new federal executions in January. This halt does not apply to state death row prisoners, and the U.S. Department of Justice continues to pursue the death penalty in certain ongoing cases.

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Missouri man sentenced for the murder of 3 workers during a 94 robbery. (Associated Press).