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Our Opinion: Governor right to not intervene in execution

October 7, 2021 at 3:50 p.m. | Updated October 7, 2021 at 3:47 p.m.

We don't take pleasure in Tuesday's execution of Ernest Johnson.

We don't imagine Gov. Mike Parson did either. Parson faced pressure to grant clemency from lawmakers, social justice activists, former Gov. Bob Holden and even Pope Francis, who urged the governor to remember the "sacredness of all human life."

Parson declined to intervene, and the execution went on as scheduled.

Our aim in this editorial is not to debate the death penalty. There are arguments on both sides for and against it. In 2018, the Catholic Church came out against the death penalty, but Christians can and have used the Bible to show that it should/should not be a part of our society.

Valid concerns have been raised about capital punishment, and the debate should continue.

But, right now, we are one of the states that have it. Unfortunately, murder has become more commonplace in our society, yet the death penalty is relatively rare. It's reserved for the most extreme murder cases; our judicial system ensures that it's not used lightly.

In Johnson's case, the court system has given him 28 years of life after he brutally took the lives of three people. He's had every chance to prove not only his innocence, but that the punishment doesn't fit the crime.

In his case, the courts ruled capital punishment was appropriate.

On Feb. 12, 1994, Johnson, who was high on cocaine, waited for a Casey's store in Columbia to close before robbing the store for drug money. He used a claw hammer to bludgeon the three employees: manager Mary Bratcher, 46, and employees Mabel Scruggs, 57, and Fred Jones, 58.

He made off with $443. The next morning - the morning the bodies were found - he spent about half of that at a shopping mall.

The evidence against him was overwhelming. We haven't heard anyone suggest he didn't commit the crimes. Instead, his supporters suggested he was mentally incapacitated. Killing him would violate the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits executing intellectually disabled people, the Associated Press reported.

The AP said he scored extremely low on IQ tests, dating back to childhood. Johnson's attorney said Johnson lost about one-fifth of his brain tissue when a benign tumor was removed in 2008. It was surgery to save his life - 14 years after he took three other lives.

But the constitutional amendment gives states the right to determine who is intellectually disabled. The courts didn't determine that he was.

Life-and-death matters aren't every easy decisions. But in this case, the governor made the right call. He let the judicial system work in carrying out a lawful sentence.

We hope the families of the victims - as well as Johnson's family - can find peace.


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