The execution of Ernest Lee Johnson will not happen today.
The Attorney General’s Office has issued a statement saying that the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals will consider Johnson’s appeal in the “ordinary course of business.”
“Consequently,” the statement continues, “there will not be an execution before the warrant expires today.”
The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay in Johnson’s case and sent back to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals his appeal based on his claim that the lethal injection of pentobarbital presents a risk of violent seizures that would violate his rights against cruel and unusual punishment. The 8th Circuit dismissed that appeal for Johnson’s failure to state a claim. The Supreme Court required the 8th Circuit to decide whether that should have been dismissed or whether the case should have been allowed to proceed.
The death warrant issued by the Missouri Supreme Court expires at 5:59 tonight.
Johnson, 55, was sentenced to death for three counts of first-degree murder for killing Mary Bratcher, Mable Scruggs, and Fred Jones. He had also shot one victim in the face and stabbed another 10 times in the hand with a screwdriver before the fatal attacks with the hammer.
He was linked to the crime by shoes that matched bloody footprints at the scene, money, checks, and a cash register receipt from the store, and bloody clothing. Johnson in recent appeals of his sentence did not dispute his guilt in the murders.
Johnson’s attorneys argued in recent weeks that he should not be executed using pentobarbital because it would pose a risk of violent and uncontrollable seizures in him, as a result of scar tissue and other conditions that remained after a 2008 surgery to remove a brain tumor. They argued that lethal gas, still a legal method of execution in Missouri but unused since 1965, would pose less risk of pain to Johnson.
Alternately his attorneys argued that Johnson suffered from intellectual disability since childhood, and as such his execution would violate the constitution.