Missouri to Execute Ernest Johnson After Joe Biden Vowed to End Capital Punishment

Missouri is set to carry out the fourth execution of the Biden administration on Tuesday, despite the president calling to end the death penalty during his campaign.

Ernest Lee Johnson, 61, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. at the state prison in Bonne Terre. He was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing three people during a robbery in 1994 at a convenience store in Columbia.

On Monday, Missouri Governor Mike Parson confirmed that the execution will indeed take place, despite calls from anti-death penalty activists to halt it.

"Mr. Johnson was tried and convicted for the brutal murder of three innocent victims during a robbery in 1994. The evidence showed Mr. Johnson went to great lengths to plan and conceal his crime. Three juries have reviewed Mr. Johnson's case and recommended a sentence of death," Parson wrote in a statement.

Death penalty opponents previously called on him to stop the execution, citing the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on executing the intellectually disabled.

Jeremy Weis, Johnson's attorney, said Johnson was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and lost about 20 percent of his brain tissue during a 2008 surgery to remove a benign tumor. Testing and IQ indicated he has the intellectual capacity of a child, according to Weis.

Elyse Max, the executive director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, previously told Newsweek, that he "categorically meets all three criteria for diagnosis of an intellectual disability and should be granted clemency from execution."

Representatives Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver, both Missouri Democrats, on Friday called for the execution to be halted, writing in a letter to the Governor, "Mr. Johnson's execution would be a grave act of injustice." A petition urging clemency for Johnson had received nearly 27,000 signatures by Tuesday morning.

Pope Francis has also joined the calls, urging Parson to remember the "sacredness of life."

However, President Joe Biden stayed mum on the issue, despite pushing for the end of the death penalty during his 2020 presidential campaign—though, throughout his political career, he at times pushed for strict policies regarding crime. A 1994 crime bill he supported created 60 new death penalty offenses.

"Over 160 individuals who've been sentenced to death in this country since 1973 have later been exonerated," his campaign platform read. "Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government's example. These individuals should instead serve life sentences without probation or parole."

Opponents of the death penalty have previously criticized Biden after the administration requested the Supreme Court renew the death sentence of the Boston Marathon bomber and remained largely silent as conservative states including Texas have continued executions throughout his presidency.

"Biden's lack of action is unconscionable," said Ashley Kincaid Eve, a lawyer and activist in June. "This is the easiest campaign promise to keep, and the fact he refuses to keep it...is political cowardice."

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment on the execution Tuesday morning but had not heard back by publication. This story will be updated with any response.

Death Penalty Protest
Missouri was expected to execute Ernest Lee Johnson on Tuesday. Here, activists protest the death penalty in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2017. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images