A Missouri man has appealed his execution ruling citing a brain tumor which would cause pain and convulsions upon receiving the lethal injection.
Ernest Lee Johnson, 55, is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday evening, after being convicted for the brutal murders of three people on February 12, 1994.
At the time, he was trying to rob a Casey’s general store from Columbia, Missouri, after closing time, in order to get money for drugs. His victims were 57-year old Mable Scruggs, 58-year old Fred Jones and 46-year old Mary Bratcher, who were all part of the shop’s staff.
The three employees were beaten viciously with a claw hammer, and Jones was also shot in the face, while Bratcher was stabbed more than 10 times using a screwdriver. Johnson put the corpses in a cooler, and left the convenience store with his loot.
Shortly after the gruesome incident, the culprit was apprehended, after being known as a loyal customer of the local business. Law enforcement discovered stolen money and receipts at his home, as well as a bank bag.
Today, over 21 years after his crimes, he is scheduled to receive the lethal injection at the Bonne Terre Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center. This would make him the 26 person inmate to be executed this year in the United States, and the 7th in Missouri.
However, he has appealed the court’s decision, mentioning the fact that he has undergone surgery in 2008, to remove part of a brain tumor, and about a fifth of his brain tissue. Due to this intervention, he was left with severe brain damage and walking impairment.
According to his defense attorneys, the execution would be unbearably painful for their client, because a reaction between the lethal injection containing pentobarbital and the remnants of the brain tumor would result in excruciating seizures.
“Mr Johnson faces a significant medical risk for a serious seizure as the direct result of the combination of the Missouri lethal injection protocol and Mr. Johnson’s permanent and disabling neurologic disease”, explained Dr. Zivot, who analyzed his brain MRI.
In another appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, the lawyers also invoke the fact that the inmate only has an IQ of 67, after being born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
A court ruling issued in 2002, following the Atkins v. Virginia case, specified that executing intellectually disabled individuals, who have an IQ score below 70, is in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.
Johnson had already been sentenced to death before this ruling after being convicted in 1995, but a new hearing was ordered, and yet again the Supreme Court gave him this punishment. There was one more hearing in 2006, following another appeal, but the death sentence was issued one more time.
Now, after the two most recent appeals claiming medical concerns, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has come to the conclusion that there are no valid reasons why the execution shouldn’t proceed as planned.
As he explained, 18 “rapid and painless” executions took place using pentorbital ever since it was first administered to death row prisoners in November 2013.
Efforts to halt executions in Missouri have been met with mixed results before: for instance, Cecyl Clayton invoked a sawmill accident that caused him frontal lobe damage, but he was still put to death in March.
On the other hand, Russel Bucklew who had been scheduled to be executed in May 2014 managed to delay his execution due to a rare congenital condition called cavernous hemangioma.
It remains to be seen if Governor Jay Nixon or the US Supreme Court will grant Johnson stay of execution or commute the sentence to life imprisonment without parole. If that doesn’t occur, the man will indeed be administered the lethal injection today.
Image Source: KSPR