Execution of Missouri death row inmate may proceed after court rejects racial bias claim


The execution of a black death row inmate may proceed Tuesday night after the Missouri Supreme Court rejected a claim that the case was tainted by racial bias and determined that the claim was unlikely to succeed on legal challenges.

Special counsel Edward Keenan had argued that the state’s initial handling of Kevin Johnson’s case was fraught with “racist prosecution techniqueswhich influenced his conviction and death sentence for the 2005 murder of a Missouri police officer. Johnson was 19 years old at the time of the arrest.

The Missouri Supreme Court decision released Monday night allows the state to go ahead with the planned execution of Johnson, 37, by lethal injection. It came after Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, said in a statement that I wouldn’t grant him clemency “for his horrendous and callous crime.”

The vote was 5–2, with the majority writing that Keenan’s claims “are largely just repackaged versions of claims that Johnson has made (and seen rejected) many times before.”

“Nothing in the Special Counsel’s motion materially changes these claims or offers a greater chance of success than those claims have had in the past,” the majority said.

The ruling is yet another blow to Johnson’s case after a federal judge on Friday denied his 19-year-old daughter the right to attend his execution based on Missouri law that requires a witness to be at least 21 years old. .

Keenan, who was appointed special prosecutor by the St. Louis County Circuit Court in October, said in a court filing that he found that County Attorney Robert McCulloch’s office, who lost his 2018 re-election campaign, had compromised. . in discriminatory practices.

They include how McCulloch’s office prosecuted five cases of police killings: He sought the death penalty in four cases involving black defendants, but not in the case of a white defendant whose “conduct was most aggravated,” Keenan said.

In addition, Keenan said that McCulloch “largely reserved the death penalty” for defendants whose victims were white and that statements he made to other prosecutors “show particular animosity toward young black men like Mr. Johnson, seeing them as a population ‘us to deal with’ and portraying them as stereotypical criminals”.

McCulloch could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Keenan said in a court filing that he also requested a stay of Johnson’s execution because the team of prosecutors during his trial refused to cooperate with his investigation.

“Mr. McCulloch has refused to even acknowledge correspondence from the special counsel asking him about the case, despite his extensive statements to the media about this and other cases,” Keenan said.

When Johnson’s execution date was set for August, McCulloch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was specifically sentenced to death for the “brutal, vicious, and unprovoked murder of a police officer.”

“Nothing to do with his career, my career, anybody’s career,” McCulloch said.

Missouri Assistant Attorney General Andrew Crane reiterated during arguments before the state Supreme Court that Johnson received the death penalty because he killed a police officer and that any other circumstances surrounding the case ultimately did not matter.

Johnson was arrested in the July 2005 fatal shooting of Kirkwood police officer William McEntee in suburban St. Louis.

Kevin Johnson at the Clayton Courthouse in Clayton, Mo., on April 3, 2007.F. Brian Ferguson / Pool via AP File

McEntee and other officers were serving an arrest warrant for Johnson, who had been on probation for assaulting his girlfriend and was believed to have committed rape.

At that time, his 12-year-old brother, who had a congenital heart defect, suffered a seizure after running to his grandmother’s house. He died at the hospital. Johnson testified at his trial that McEntee pushed his mother when she arrived on the scene and that the officer’s actions angered him because he was concerned about his brother’s health.

Johnson said he met McEntee when he returned to his neighborhood that night for an unrelated call about a fireworks riot. According to prosecutors, he shot McEntee multiple times and fled. He turned himself in three days later.

During his incarceration, Johnson’s supporters say, he turned his life around and was a supportive father to his daughter, Khorry Ramey, who was 2 when he was arrested. She said that he has been the only father she has ever known after an ex-boyfriend killed her mother when she was 4 years old.

“My dad is the most important person in my life. He has been there for me my entire life, even though he has been incarcerated,” Ramey said in a statement Friday after losing his lawsuit to witness his execution. “He is a good father, the only father I have left.”

Johnson has exhausted all his legal remedies. Barring any unforeseen delays, if they run it on Tuesday, it would be the fifth execution by a state this month, which has been the busiest month for capital punishment in the US in 2022.

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