Kevin Johnson — who murdered a Kirkwood, Missouri, police officer in 2005 but claimed racial bias in his prosecution — was executed by lethal injection Tuesday night.
Johnson, 37, was pronounced dead at 7:40 p.m. ET. According to Karen Pojmann, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, he did not give a final statement.
The execution went ahead after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his request for a moratorium on the execution. Judges Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor disagreed, according to the court website.
On Monday, the Missouri Supreme Court denied Johnson’s request for a stay of execution after hearing arguments that racial discrimination played a role in his prosecution.
Mary McEntee, widow of Sergeant Kirkwood. William McEntee said her husband was killed while kneeling before the people he had served his life.
“When he went to work that day, we could not have imagined that he would be executed by the very people he put his life to protect,” she said at a media conference Tuesday night. “Bill didn’t fight for his life. He didn’t have the opportunity to have a say in front of a jury that decides whether he lives or dies.”
She also thanked prosecutors for their “hard work and endless hours…to bring justice to Bill.”
Johnson’s 19-year-old daughter, who did not witness the execution, failed this month to get a federal court to stop the state from executing her father unless she is allowed to be a witness. Missouri law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from witnessing proceedings.
Boyman said Johnson met with his daughter earlier Tuesday.
On Monday, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments for two stay requests: one by Johnson, who is black, and the other by a special counsel appointed at the request of St. Louis. The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office secured the death penalty for Johnson on the first-degree murder charge and the murder of McEntee.
Both requests seek a stay so that claims of racial bias can be heard in St. Louis. The St. Louis County Circuit Court previously denied the special counsel’s motion to quash Johnson’s conviction, saying there was not enough time for a hearing before Johnson’s scheduled execution.
“There is simply nothing here that Johnson has not advanced before (and has not been rejected by this Court), and even if there were, Johnson has provided no basis for any new or repackaged versions of these oft-denied claims. Date ,” said Monday’s ruling.
Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, also on Monday denied a request for clemency from Johnson’s attorneys.
“Mr. Johnson has all the protections afforded by the State of Missouri and the U.S. Constitution, and Mr. Johnson’s conviction and sentence remain for his horrific and callous crimes,” Parson said in a statement. “The State of Missouri will enforce Mr. Johnson’s sentencing by order of the court and with justice.”
Johnson’s defense attorneys denounced Monday’s state Supreme Court ruling as “a total disregard for the law in this case.”
“In this case, prosecutors have asked the court to stay the execution based on the compelling evidence he uncovered in the last month. Johnson was sentenced to death because he was black,” attorney Sean Nolan said in a statement. “The Missouri Supreme Court unconscionably refused to simply suspend Mr. Johnson’s execution date so that prosecutors could bring this evidence to a lower court, which declined to consider it at first instance due to time constraints.”
Meanwhile, Johnson’s attorneys argued in court records that racial discrimination played a role in his prosecution, noting their motion to stay St. Louis’ “long-standing and pervasive racial bias.” The Lewis County Prosecutor “handles this and other death-penalty-eligible prosecutions, including the office’s determination of which crimes to charge, what punishment to seek, and which jurors to recall.”
At their request, prosecutors are demanding the death penalty for four of the five defendants on trial for killing a police officer while in office — all of them black, while the fifth is white. In the white defendant’s case, Johnson’s plea said, prosecutors invited defense attorneys to submit mitigating evidence that might persuade the office not to seek the death — a black defendant has no chance.
Additionally, they point to a study by UNC political scientists of 408 capital-eligible homicides during the prosecutor’s tenure, which found that the office primarily sought the death penalty when the victims were white.
Those claims appear to be backed up by a special prosecutor who was named to lead the case in St. Louis last month. The St. Louis Attorney’s Office said there was a conflict of interest. Special Counsel Edward EE Keenan likewise “determines that racist prosecution techniques infected Mr. Johnson’s conviction and death sentence,” he wrote in his stay request.
The special counsel found “clear and compelling evidence of racial bias by the trial prosecutor,” he wrote in the request, citing evidence similar to that listed by Johnson’s attorneys in the stay request.
The Missouri attorney general’s office opposed the stay, saying the allegations were baseless. The attorney general’s office said in a letter that the special counsel’s “unsubstantiated claims” did not amount to a concession to wrongdoing by the state, which stood by the conviction.
“The McEntee family has waited long enough for justice,” the briefing said, “and with every additional day they must wait, they lose the opportunity to finally live in peace with those they lost.”
Bob McCulloch, longtime St. Prosecutor Lewis, who was voted out in 2018 after 27 years, has denied that he treats black and white defendants differently.
“Show me a similar case where the victim was black and I didn’t ask for death,” St. Louis quoted him as saying. Earlier this month, Louise Public Radio spoke about his time in office. “Then we have something to say. But that just doesn’t exist.”
Johnson was sentenced to death for the July 5, 2005, murder of 43-year-old McEntee, who was called to Johnson’s neighborhood after reports of fireworks.
Earlier in the day, Johnson’s 12-year-old brother died after suffering a seizure at home, according to court records. Police were there at the time of the seizure, seeking a warrant for Johnson, who was 19 at the time, for violating his probation.
Johnson blamed the police, including McEntee, for his brother’s death. When McEntee returned to the neighborhood later that day, Johnson approached the sheriff’s patrol car, accused him of killing his brother and opened fire.
He is survived by a wife, a daughter and two sons, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.