A Missouri man convicted of killing a police officer he blamed for the death of his ailing brother was executed Tuesday night despite allegations of racial discrimination in his death sentence.
Kevin Johnson was put to death by lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme rejected a stay request from a special prosecutor and his attorneys late Tuesday. They argued the man’s trial was “infected” with racist prosecution techniques.
The lawyers had also appealed the case to the Missouri Supreme Court, and Republican Gov. Mike Parson said Monday that Johnson would not be granted clemency and had been given the punishment because he committed a “horrendous and callous crime.”
Still, several supporters and advocates gathered outside the prison singing prayers and hymns Tuesday night. Others held protests leading up to the execution date. Many believe Johnson was executed because of his race. Others argued that the death penalty is inhumane.
“Kevin Johnson is the face of racism in the criminal process,” said Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of the Missouri State NAACP. “This is a travesty. Missouri does not deserve to kill KJ.”
Chapel, also board chair of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the NAACP issued a travel warning for the state: “If you are a person of color in Missouri, you have got to be careful. You will not have the complete protection of the law in the courts nor on the streets.”
However, Mary McEntee, wife of the cop Johnson admitted to killing, said people are dismissing the fact that her husband is the victim.
“An execution occurred on July 5, 2005, Sgt. William McEntee was ambushed and shot five times in his police car. He crashed his car up the street, and Kevin Johnson decided to be judge, jury and executioner when he walked back to Bill’s car and was on his hands and knees in his own pool of blood when Kevin Johnson shot him two more times execution-style in the back of his head,” the wife said during a Tuesday night news conference. “A murder so bad, Kevin Johnson’s own cousin that was watching this happened threw up.”
McEntee of the Kirkwood Police Department was among the officers who went to Johnson’s home in July 2005 to execute an arrest warrant. Police accused Johnson, then 19, of violating his probation, which he was serving for assaulting his girlfriend.
According to court documents, his 12-year-old brother, who had a congenital heart defect, had a seizure at a home next door while officers were searching a vehicle they believed was Johnson’s. The family sought help from police, but Johnson was convinced “they were too busy looking for me.” The boy died later at a hospital.
McEntee returned to the area later for a call about fireworks when Johnson confronted and killed him. Johnson has not denied killing the officer. He declined to make a final statement on Tuesday or to eat his last meal.
Johnson’s 19-year-old daughter had asked a federal court to override state law that prohibits people under 21 from witnessing executions so she could be present at the proceeding. The request was denied, but officials said she visited her father earlier on Tuesday.
“I am dad’s closest relative, and he is mine, other than my baby son,” she wrote. “If my dad were dying in the hospital, I would stick by his side and hold his hand, praying until his death.”
Johnson’s attorneys and special prosecutor Edward Keenan argued in their motions that the state would execute Johnson “not for his crimes, but because he is Black and his victim was white.”
Keenan said his investigation into the case uncovered “strong evidence of racial discrimination.”
Keenan found that the trial prosecutor in Johnson’s case, Robert McCulloch, sought death for the four other Black defendants accused of killing police officers but spared the lone white defendant from capital punishment.
The attorneys and court-appointed prosecutor, from the same office that pushed for Johnson’s conviction, also argued that McCulloch had a reputation for being racist. He “routinely discriminated in jury selection” and had given a speech in 2018 that led to a mass walkout by other prosecutors “in disgust over” his “unabashed views.”
Kennan filed a motion earlier this month in the St. Louis County Circuit Court to halt the execution, but the judge ruled there wasn’t enough time to hold a hearing.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Monday that “Johnson offers no basis for raising any new or repackaged versions of these oft-rejected claims at this late date.”
U.S. Supreme Court records show the application to stop Johnson’s execution was presented to Justice Brett Kavanaugh and he referred it to the court to be denied. Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson would have granted the application for a stay of execution, according to court documents.
The governor said Johnson had “received every protection afforded by the Missouri and United States Constitutions.”
“There is not and never has been any doubt about Mr. Johnson’s guilt. Nor has Mr. Johnson’s conviction or sentence ever been reversed on appeal,” Parson’s office said in a news release. “Mr. Johnson’s case has been reviewed in the state trial court, Missouri Supreme Court, federal district court, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and United States Supreme Court.”
“The violent murder of any citizen, let alone a Missouri law enforcement officer, should be met only with the fullest punishment state law allows,” said Parsons, a former county sheriff.