Despite pleas for mercy from the Missouri Catholic Conference and thousands of people, the state of Missouri executed Ernest Johnson on Tuesday evening. Two members of Congress, former Missouri governor Bob Holden, and four retired judges were the latest to add their voices in opposition to the execution. Johnson’s legal team was still filing briefs on Tuesday to the U.S. Supreme Court reiterating that IQ tests had indicated Johnson had the intellectual capacity of a child and it would do no harm if his execution was delayed so that his disability could be further explored. On Monday, Gov. Parson denied Johnson clemency and said the state would carry out the execution.
Following his execution, the Catholic bishops of Missouri issued a statement expressing their disappointment with the situation. “Ernest Lee Johnson’s crimes were heinous and deserved to be punished, yet as Missouri has shown itself to be a pro-life state, we should stop using the death penalty as a means of dealing with violent crimes,” the bishops said in their statement. “The death penalty degrades us as a society and teaches our children that violence is the proper response to violence,” they stated. Instead, they asked that people of good will seek “alternatives” to the death penalty for violent criminals.
The bishops’ statement followed last week’s appeal by Pope Francis expressing his support of mercy for Johnson, through a letter from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States. In the letter, the pontiff urged Gov. Parson to grant the inmate “some appropriate form of clemency” based on his “humanity and the sacredness of all human life.” The Missouri Catholic Conference sent a clemency application in September to the governor in the name of civic and religious leaders asking for mercy for Mr. Johnson.