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Cori Bush, Emanuel Cleaver Urge Governor to Spare Ernest Johnson’s Life

October 1, 2021

ST. LOUIS, MO — Today, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01), Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (MO-5) sent Missouri Governor Michael L. Parson a plea to stay the execution of Ernest Lee Johnson. The first execution in Missouri since May 2020, the Members are urging the Governor to recognize the cruelty of executing an intellectually disabled man, and grant him the humanity that everyone in Missouri deserves. 

“Mr. Johnson’s execution would be a grave act of injustice,” the Members wrote. “[K]illing those who lack the intellectual ability to conform their behavior to the law is morally and legally unconscionable. Furthermore, Johnson was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008 and underwent brain tissue removal, according to court records. Scar tissue from the removal will likely cause him painful seizures after he is injected with pentobarbital, a seizure-inducing medication. For all of these reasons, we are staunch in our belief that Mr. Johnson should be granted clemency because he -- like any person -- is worthy of retribution and care.”

Further, the Members argued that, “Like slavery and lynching did before it, the death penalty perpetuates cycles of trauma, violence and state-sanctioned murder in Black and brown communities. We urge you to correct these injustices using every tool available, including the power to grant clemency.”

Since coming to Congress in 2021, Congresswoman Bush has been a national leader in the push for clemency reform. In February, the Congresswoman urged President Biden to use his pardon power to correct legacies of injustice in the clemency process. Most recently, in September she led her fellow progressive champions in requesting that Biden commute the sentences of those individuals released during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The full text of the letter can be found here or below.

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Congresswoman Cori Bush sits on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, serves as the Progressive Caucus Deputy Whip, and proudly represents St. Louis as a politivist in the halls of the United States Congress.

 

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October 1, 2021 
 

The Honorable Michael L. Parson

Governor of Missouri

P.O. Box 720

Jefferson City, MO 65102
 

Dear Governor Parson: 

We write to you today to urgently ask that you halt the execution of Ernest Lee Johnson scheduled for October 5th at a state prison in Bonne Terre. As lawmakers, we are committed to building a Missouri that is a beacon of justice, and who strive daily to represent the needs and demands of Missourians across the state. It is for this reason we urge you to immediately commute the sentence of Mr. Johnson. 

Mr. Johnson is a son, a brother, an uncle, and a dear friend to many. He was born in Steele, Missouri in 1960 and was raised in Charleston, Missouri. His father was a sharecropper in Pemiscot County. He attended a segregated school and was raised primarily by his grandmother. Mr. Johnson’s mother lived with an alcohol and drug addiction, which resulted in Mr. Johnson being diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). He faces his suffering and trials with humor. He also loves food, especially pizza, hamburgers and ice cream. He delights in the small blessings he is afforded and is quick to testify to even the smallest of mercies. According to Kelly D. Watts, spiritual advisor to Mr. Johnson, “Ernest Johnson is perhaps one of the purest of heart human beings I have ever had the blessing of meeting...Ernest is a gentle, kind, loving man.”

Mr. Johnson’s execution would be a grave act of injustice. Mr. Johnson “meets all statutory and clinical definitions” of intellectual disability. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits executing intellectually disabled people. As members of the U.S. House of Representatives, we urge you not to act in contravention to our Constitution. You must not execute Mr. Johnson. In addition, killing those who lack the intellectual ability to conform their behavior to the law is morally and legally unconscionable. Furthermore, Johnson was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008 and underwent brain tissue removal, according to court records. Scar tissue from the removal will likely cause him painful seizures after he is injected with pentobarbital, a seizure-inducing medication. For all of these reasons, we are staunch in our belief that Mr. Johnson should be granted clemency because he -- like any person -- is worthy of retribution and care. 

We must move our country towards accountability and healing. In order to do so, we must first acknowledge the moral depravity of executions. The fact of the matter is that these death sentences are not about justice. They are about who has institutional power and who doesn’t. Like slavery and lynching did before it, the death penalty perpetuates cycles of trauma, violence and state-sanctioned murder in Black and brown communities. We urge you to correct these injustices using every tool available, including the power to grant clemency. 

Mr. Johnson’s cruel execution would be the first execution in Missouri since May 2020. We must dedicate ourselves to the fundamental principles of liberty and justice that animate our laws and our governance. We can collectively save the lives of people all across America. We look forward to working with your administration to enact just and restorative policies that will meaningfully transform our legal system for the better. 

Sincerely, 


 

CORI BUSH 

Member of Congress  

 

EMANUEL CLEAVER

Member of Congress