[Breaking news update, published at 9:25 p.m. ET]
Kevin Johnson, who murdered a Kirkwood, Mo., police officer in 2005 but whose prosecution alleges racial bias, was executed Tuesday night by lethal injection. Johnson, 37, was pronounced dead at 7:40 p.m. ET. According to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann, he did not give a final statement.
[Previous story, published at 6:49 a.m. ET]
The Missouri Supreme Court has denied a death row inmate’s request for a stay of execution after hearing arguments that racial discrimination played a role in his prosecution for the murder of a police officer.
Kevin Johnson will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court as he is set to be executed on Tuesday, his attorney said late Monday.
In a separate lawsuit, Johnson’s 19-year-old daughter failed this month to get a federal court to prevent the state from executing Johnson unless she is allowed to testify; Missouri law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from witnessing proceedings.
Then, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday 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 Lewis County Attorney’s Office, secured Johnson’s death sentence on first-degree murder charges and the murder of Kirkwood Police Sergeant Sgt. William 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 the lower court, which refused to consider it in the first instance due to time constraints.
Meanwhile, attorneys for Johnson, 37, argued in court records that racial discrimination played a role in his prosecution, noting in their motion for a stay of “long-standing and pervasive racial bias” in St. Louis . 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.