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Daughter of Condemned Missouri Prisoner Unsuccessfully Sues to Witness His Execution

by Jo Ellen Nott

On November 29, 2022, Missouri administered a lethal injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre to murder prisoner Kevin Johnson, 37. But his 19-year-old daughter was not by his side. That was because a federal judge had ruled that a state law barring Corionsa Ramey because of her age was constitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had filed an emergency lawsuit on behalf of Ramey on November 21, 2022, seeking an injunction to allow her to accompany her father in his last moments. According to Missouri law, no one under the age of 21 may attend executions. But the ACLU argued that the law “violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment, and the right of freedom of association under the First Amendment by singling out adults younger than 21 without any rational relationship to a legitimate governmental or penological interest.”

In his written ruling on the Friday before the execution, U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes said that Ramey failed to demonstrate the law was unconstitutional. “[T]he Constitution protects ‘certain kinds of highly personal relationships’ including immediate family relationships,” he allowed, quoting Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126 (2003). But that same precedent also held that “freedom of association is among the rights least compatible with incarceration,” the judge continued, so “such freedoms must be curtailed in the prison context.” Moreover, it “remains in the public’s interest to allow states to enforce their laws and administer state prisons without court intervention,” he said, declining to order injunctive relief. See: Ramey v. Parson, USDC (W.D.Mo.) Case No. 2:22-CV-04171.

It was the state’s second execution this year and the 17th nationally.

Johnson received the death penalty for killing Kirkwood police Sgt. William McEntee in 2005. On the day of that murder, McEntee came to Johnson’s house to serve a warrant on the then-19-year-old for violating probation. Johnson’s younger brother, Joseph, 12, fled and hid from the cops at a neighbor’s house. There, he suffered a seizure related to a congenital heart defect. McEntee prevented the boys’ mother from entering the house, and the boy then died.

Later that day, an enraged Johnson chanced upon McEntee in his car and ambushed him, shooting him several times. Badly wounded, McEntee drove off but crashed his car about 200 feet away. He managed to exit the vehicle on his hands and knees. Johnson then walked up and shot him twice more, execution-style, in the back and the back of the head.

His post-conviction attorneys contended Johnson’s youth and history of mental illness should have spared him the death penalty. But they said he was sentenced to death in part because he is Black. The courts and Republican Gov. Mike Parson declined to stop the execution. 

Sources: NBC News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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