Missouri Sets Execution Date for Ernest Lee Johnson Who Killed 3 Store Workers

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday set an execution date for a man convicted of killing three people at a convenience store almost 30 years ago.

The court's order set Ernest Lee Johnson's execution for October 5 at the state prison in Bonne Terre, the Associated Press reported.

Johnson has been on death row since he was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in the 1994 deaths of Mary Bratcher, Mable Scruggs, and Fred Jones. All three victims, who were employees of a Casey's convenience store in Columbia, were beaten to death with a hammer.

The 60-year-old had asked for his execution to be carried out by firing squad, a method of execution that is not authorized under Missouri law.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider his appeal, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting, along with Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

"We should not countenance the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment simply for the sake of expediency. That is what the Eighth Circuit's decision has done. Because this Court chooses to stand idly by, I respectfully dissent," Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.

The court left in place a lower court ruling that could allow him to be executed by lethal injection, according to AP.

Johnson argued that pentobarbital, the state's lethal injection drug, violates his Eight Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment because the drug could trigger seizures. Johnson suffers from epilepsy and still has part of a benign tumor in his brain.

Death penalty protest
Activists hold signs with the names of people executed in the United States since 1977 during an anti-death penalty protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court January 17, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Ernest Lee Johnson's execution has been set for October 5. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

If Johnson's execution goes ahead, it would be Missouri's first execution since Walter Barton was put to death in May 2020.

Barton was convicted of the 1991 murder of 81-year-old Gladys Kuehler, the manager of a mobile home park where he lived. He maintained his innocence until his dying day. "I, Walter 'Arkie' Barton, am innocent and they are executing an innocent man!!" Barton wrote as his last statement.

His case had been taken on by The Innocent Project, who said Barton was the first inmate to be executed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nonprofit also argued that Barton's conviction was based on unreliable evidence and noted that he had been tried five times and had two convictions overturned.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, referred to Barton's case in a tweet after the state Supreme Court set a date for Johnson's execution.

"The last person #Missouri executed—#WalterBarton—was likely innocent," he wrote.

"The next person scheduled to be executed—#ErnestJohnson—is likely intellectually disabled. But those issues do not appear to matter in Missouri."