Missouri ignores daughter’s pleas and executes man over 2005 murder of police officer

On Tuesday evening, the conservative-heavy US Supreme Court denied Kevin Johnson’s request for a stay of execution, based on arguments that racial bias played a part in his sentence

Rachel Sharp
Wednesday 30 November 2022 14:03 GMT
Anger over US execution

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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The state of Missouri has executed a man for the 2005 murder of a police officer – ignoring claims of racial bias in his conviction as well as a desperate bid from his teenage daughter to be with him in his final moments.

Kevin Johnson, 37, was put to death by lethal injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre on Tuesday night – becoming the fifth execution in America this month and making November the busiest month for death penalties in the whole of 2022.

Johnson, who was convicted of shooting dead Kirkwood Police Sgt William McEntee 17 years ago, did not give a final statement and declined a final meal. He was pronounced dead at 7.40pm.

The execution went ahead after the 37-year-old Black man, who was 19 at the time of the crime, exhausted all of his legal appeals.

On Tuesday evening, the conservative-heavy US Supreme Court denied to grant his request for a stay of execution, based on arguments from both Johnson’s attorneys and a special prosecutor that racial bias played a part in his sentence.

Liberal Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor dissented the ruling.

Missouri’s highest court also denied Johnson’s request for a stay on Monday and Republican Governor Mike Parson also refused to step in.

After Johnson was put to death, Mr Parson said that he hoped the execution would “bring some closure” to the family of McEntee.

The slain police officer’s widow Mary McEntee said in a press conference that “many have forgot Bill was the victim” when he was “ambushed and shot” multiple times while out serving his community.

“When he left for work that day, we could not imagine that he would be executed by someone he gave his life to protect,” she said.

“Bill didn’t get to fight for his life. He didn’t have the chance to be heard before a jury, to decide whether he would live or die.”

Johnson met with his daughter Corionsa “Khorry” Ramey earlier on Tuesday after a judge blocked the 19-year-old’s desperate plea to watch her father’s execution for a crime he committed at the age of 19 – because of a Missouri law that claims she is too young to see his death sentence carried out.

Under Missouri state law, execution witnesses must be 21 or older.

Kevin Johnson, 37, with his daughter Khorry Ramey, 19, and grandchild before he was executed on Tuesday
Kevin Johnson, 37, with his daughter Khorry Ramey, 19, and grandchild before he was executed on Tuesday (ACLU)

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on her behalf challenging the law, calling it a violation of Ms Ramey’s constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

But, US District Judge Brian Wimes struck struck down the lawsuit in a written ruling, saying that the law does not violate her constitutional rights and that it is “in the public’s interest” to allow states to enforce their own laws.

Following the ruling, Ms Ramey spoke out to say that she was “heartbroken” that she could not be with her father during his final moments.

“I’m heartbroken that I won’t be able to be with my dad in his last moments,” she said in a statement shared by the ACLU.

“My dad is the most important person in my life. He has been there for me my whole life, even though he’s been incarcerated. He is a good father, the only parent I have left.”

Johnson spent almost two decades on death row for shooting married father-of-three multiple times.

The fatal shooting unfolded in July 2005 when McEntee was among a group of police officers serving an arrest warrant on Johnson for a suspected probation violation.

When officers arrived at McEntee’s home, his 12-year-old brother Joseph “Bam Bam” Long ran next door to their grandmother’s house and collapsed from a seizure.

The boy, who suffered from a congenital heart defect, was taken to hospital where he died.

Just hours later, Johnson and McEntee encountered each other once again after the officer was called to respond to an unrelated incident in the neighbourhood.

Johnson shot and killed the officer – shooting him once when he saw him and a second time after McEntee had collapsed to the ground.

Johnson testified at his trial that he blamed the police officer for his brother’s death because he had allegedly blocked their mother from rendering aid to the teenage boy.

In an ironic twist, Johnson was 19 when he was handed the death penalty – the same age that his daughter was deemed too young to see his death sentence carried out.

The Black man’s attorneys and a special prosecutor fought until the bitter end for his life to be spared, arguing that his conviction and sentence were “infected by racism” from the get-go.

Edward Keenan, a court-appointed special prosecutor, had filed an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court arguing that the prosecutor in charge of the case showed “a particular animosity towards young Black males”.

In court filings, he said that former St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s office handled five cases of people being charged with killing police officers.

Four of the cases involved Black suspects and the fifth a white suspect.

His office sought the death penalty for the four Black suspects but not the white suspect – and in that case even invited the white defendant to submit mitigating circumstances to the state, the filings said.

But, despite the filings, the Black man’s execution went ahead.

Missouri has two more executions scheduled for the next three months – Scott McLaughlin in January and Leonard Taylor in February.

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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