Missouri Executions Have Numbered Four in 2023, Raising Questions About the Legal System

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a last-minute, two-sentence ruling that refused to halt the execution of Johnny Johnson, a mentally ill inmate convicted of the kidnapping, attempted rape and murder of six-year-old Casey Williamson in 2002.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently slammed the metaphoric jail cell door on death row prisoners hoping to submit appeals for last-minute stays of execution.

Attorneys representing Johnny Johnson argued that his mental illness prevented him from understanding the serious nature of his crime and his justifiable punishment for it. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, rejecting well-established precedent by permitting his execution to remain on schedule.

The state of Missouri executed 45-year-old Johnny Johnson on August 1st via lethal injection at Bonne Terre State Prison. Johnson had been convicted in 2005 of the kidnapping, attempted rape and murder of six-year-old Casey Williamson in St. Louis’ Valley Park suburb back in 2002.

In late July, a panel of three judges on the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals put a halt to the execution, allowing Johnson to undergo a mental competency hearing. But the Missouri attorney general requested that the court reconsider; a few days later, that decision was reversed by the full court.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a brief, last-minute, two-sentence ruling. The high court refused to halt the execution or grant Johnson a hearing to determine his mental competency. There were dissenting voted from the three liberal justices on the court, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. The court’s decision contradicts decades of precedent relating to mental illness and capital punishment, sending a message to lower courts around the country, said Mark Joseph Stern, a senior writer covering the Supreme Court for SLATE.

Previously, mentally ill pinmates on death row have been given the opportunity to argue that they are “insane”, and therefore unfit for execution. Now, Stern said, it seems that the Supreme Court is no longer willing to grant prisoners that opportunity for a last reprieve.


Normin Ujivyediin of KCUR filed the original version of this report.


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