Ernest Lee Johnson was executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri Tuesday evening, some 27 years after he killed three convenience store workers in a robbery. A representative for Pope Francis was among those who had called for the state to spare the 61-year-old inmate, whose lawyers said his execution would be unconstitutional because he is intellectually disabled. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Monday that he would not intervene, the AP reports. Around 90 minutes before the lethal injection, the US Supreme Court said it would not grant a stay of execution.
In a written statement released Monday, Johnson expressed remorse. "I love the Lord with all my heart and soul. If I am executed I no were I am going to heaven. Because I ask him to forgive me," he wrote, per the Kansas City Star. The execution was the seventh in the US so far this year and Missouri's first since May 2020. Johnson, who killed the three workers with a gun and a claw hammer in Feb. 1994, was sentenced to death for a third time in 2006. His previous two death sentences were thrown out by the US Supreme Court and the Missouri Supreme Court.
The execution was protested by racial justice advocates, among others, but relatives of the three victims—Mary Bratcher, 46; Mabel Scruggs, 57; and Fred Jones, 58 —said they wanted the execution to go ahead, the Star reports. Prosecutors said Johnson killed the three as he robbed the store for money to buy drugs. "This was a hideous crime,” said Boone County prosecutor Kevin Crane. "It was traumatic, and it was intense." (Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court rejected Johnson's request to be executed by firing squad instead of lethal injection.)