Missouri executed a murderer with an intellectual disability despite pleas from the Pope to spare him

Missouri executed a murderer with an intellectual disability despite pleas from the Pope to spare him

  • Ernest Lee Johnson was sentenced to death in 2015 for murdering three people in 1994.
  • He was diagnosed with a disability, and Pope Francis had called for his life to be spared.
  • Johnson was executed by lethal injection at a Missouri state prison at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

A murderer diagnosed with an intellectual disability was executed in Missouri on Tuesday, despite a request from several lawmakers and Pope Francis to spare his life.

Ernest Lee Johnson was sentenced to death in 2015 after being convicted of murdering three people with a hammer during a robbery in 1994.

The 61-year-old was executed by lethal injection at a Bonne Terre state prison at 6:11 p.m. on Tuesday, The New York Times reported.

In his last statement, shared by the Missouri Department of Correction, Johnson said: “I want to say that I love my family and friends,” according to The Times.

“For all the people that has prayed for me I thank them.”

As Insider’s Ashley Collman previously reported, Johnson had been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome due to his mother’s alcohol addiction. He also lost about 20% of his brain tissue in 2008 as part of an operation to remove a tumor.

Johnson’s attorneys had argued in court that multiple IQ tests proved Johnson to have the mental capacity of a child, the BBC reported.

A number of prominent figures had called on Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to scrap the sentence.

On September 27, Archbishop Christophe Pierre — the Vatican’s ambassador to the US — wrote to Parson on behalf of Pope Francis, saying: “To reject the application of the death penalty in the case of Mr. Johnson, would be an equally courageous recognition of the inalienable dignity of all human life.”

Pope Francis declared in 2018 that the death penalty was unacceptable in all forms under the Catholic faith.

Reps. Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver II, two Missouri Democrats, had also asked Parson, who is a Republican, to spare Johnson. 

“Mr. Johnson’s execution would be a grave act of injustice,” the pair said in a statement released Friday. “[K]illing those who lack the intellectual ability to conform their behavior to the law is morally and legally unconscionable.”

Representatives for Johnson had tried to argue that he was unfit for execution six times, Parson’s office said in a statement Monday, but all attempts were rejected, most recently by the Missouri Supreme Court. 

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