‘Unconditionally sorry’: Kevin Johnson, set for execution Tuesday in MO, reflects on life
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Kevin Johnson, who is scheduled to be executed by the state of Missouri on Tuesday, has spent the past week having final conversations with loved ones, including his 19-year-old daughter.
"How do I tell my own little girl that you will never hear my voice again?" Johnson wrote Monday to a Star reporter from the prison in Bonne Terre, where executions take place. "Then you have to convince her to be strong and don't let that break you."
On November 21, his daughter Khorry Ramey visited him.
"I was going to give her this long, lovely farewell speech, but every time I looked into her eyes, I just couldn't," Johnson said. "She means the world to me and I hate not being there for her."
Johnson admits he killed Sgt. William McEntee, a Kirkwood police officer, in 2005. He was 19 at the time of the fatal shooting.
"I am 100% repentant and hate myself for July 5, 2005," he wrote in a Nov. 1 email. He wrote early Monday that he was "unconditionally sorry for my actions."
On Monday afternoon, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments and will consider a motion to stay the execution alleging Johnson's trial was "infected" by racist law enforcement techniques.
US Reps Emanuel Cleaver and Cori Bush opposed the execution, calling it "a grave act of injustice" in a letter to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. They noted Johnson's age at the time of the shooting and that research shows that people under the age of 22 lack emotional maturity and impulse control. They also said that Johnson's case was "tainted with racism and wrongdoing" and that he had improved during his time in prison.
"Mr. Johnson's gruesome execution will not solve any of the systemic problems facing Missourians and people across America, including the scourge of gun violence," the officials wrote Using fairness and justice as a cynical pretext.”
Johnson grew up in the Meacham Park neighborhood outside of St. Louis. According to a clemency video, his mother struggled with addiction and his father was imprisoned for part of his childhood. He and his older brother often had to fend for themselves. Sometimes there was nothing to eat for the siblings, and in the video Johnson tells how they ate cockroaches they found.
He was later physically and sexually abused.
In 1992, a younger brother was born, whom Johnson protected.
On July 5, 2005, police were looking for Johnson on an alleged parole violation. At the same time, his younger brother suffered a medical emergency. McEntee, a 20-year veteran, was one of the responding officers, according to the Associated Press. Johnson's 12-year-old brother died that day from a pre-existing heart condition.
A few hours later, Johnson saw McEntee in the neighborhood and shot him multiple times. The husband and father of three died, the AP said. Prosecutors argued Johnson believed officers had not done enough to help his brother and shot McEntee in revenge. Johnson said he was in "severe emotional turmoil that couldn't take into account the reality of what I was doing."
Johnson's first trial ended in a hung jury, according to court documents.
A second jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death.
Although his case is being reviewed by the St. Louis County Attorney's Office, in August the Missouri Supreme Court set Johnson's execution date for November 29.
At the request of the prosecutor, a special prosecutor was appointed in the Johnson case.
Kansas City Attorney Edward Keenan reviewed more than 31,000 pages, speaking to witnesses and reviewing evidence.
An eviction petition filed by Keenan on November 15 was denied in the St. Louis County District Court.
Johnson said in an email he felt the judge's decision murdered his soul.
Pam Stanfield was the principal at Westchester Elementary, which Johnson attended. He's not the type of kid who ended up in her office, Stanfield said in a phone interview on Friday. They reconnected after filming and have been in touch for 17 years, writing letters and visiting in person.
Stanfield saw him twice this month and is one of five people he listed as witnesses to the execution. During her last visit on November 22, Johnson spoke to her about his accommodations for the last day, including a planned visit from a pastor. He told her he wanted to see his little brother.
Ramey, Johnson's daughter, is not allowed to attend the execution. In Missouri, witnesses must be at least 21 years old. Last week, she filed an urgent motion, arguing that anyone aged 18 and over could be sentenced to death, so she should be allowed to attend. The motion also states that their exclusion violates equal protection laws.
"Johnson has been Ms. Ramey's only parent since she was four years old and 'is the most important person in her life,'" reads the filing. "She is his closest living blood relative and despite his detention they remain in regular and close contact through visits, phone calls and written communications. Witnessing his final moments would be both 'a source of support for him and a necessary part of her grieving process'."
Ramey's mother was murdered in front of her when she was four. She recently had a son, whom Johnson got to meet in October.
On Friday, a federal judge denied Ramey's request.
Lawyers for Johnson said Monday they are trying to arrange a visit for her on Tuesday.
In an email received by The Star on Nov. 28, timestamped at 3:20 a.m., Johnson reflected on his final days.
Things started to change for him when November came.
"I got so emotional. I was raised not to show weakness and now with all the tears coming I feel so pathetic. I had to tell my friends that dying is easy," he wrote. "What I'm so scared of is leaving people behind. I don't think my daughter, who is already living without her mother, is in a good position to live without either of her birth parents. Now I have a grandson growing up in the same neighborhood I grew up in and I'm sure he could benefit so much from having me alive to advise and structure him."
Johnson was recently transferred from Potosi Correctional Center to Eastern Reception. The ride was the first in many years that he was able to see outside beyond the sight of barbed wire fences.
“The sight was so surreal. I never wanted the ride to end and I wished to be in the car forever but Bonne Terre is not far from Potosi and when I finally saw the prison I was again overcome with fear. I remember thinking, "Wow, this is where I'm going to die!"
He said he wishes he could speak to Governor Parson and that he accepts responsibility for McEntee's death.
"I believe the purpose of true justice was for me to reform, redeem myself, and become an inmate who inspired and transformed the lives of other inmates," Johnson said.
Dozens of people have written letters of grace.
Oral hearings on a request for a stay began at 1:30 p.m. before the Missouri Supreme Court. According to the group Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, this is the first case in which a prosecutor has intervened to prevent an execution in the state.
Keenan, the special prosecutor, told judges that former prosecutor Robert McCulloch - whose father was killed in the line of duty - had sought the death penalty in four out of five cases in which a police officer died during his career. All four of those defendants were black. The fifth was white and Keenan claimed the defendant's behavior "was aggravated".
In court documents, Keenan also said McCulloch intentionally eliminated black jurors during Johnson's second trial.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Crane said "there is no reason" to stay the execution and to do so would be damaging. He also claimed that the arguments presented by Keenan would fail at future hearings and that the jury was qualified and impartial.
The court went into recess just after 2:15 p.m. Monday. About a minute later, Gov. Parson said in a press release that he planned to carry out the sentence.
"The violent murder of any citizen, much less a Missouri police officer, should be punished only with the fullest punishment that state law allows," Parson said in a statement. "By Mr. Johnson's own heinous acts, he stole the life of Sergeant McEntee, leaving behind a grieving family, a widowed wife, and fatherless children. Mercy will not be granted.”
The Missouri Supreme Court is expected to make its decision on the stay request later Monday or early Tuesday.
Shawn Nolan, an attorney for Johnson, said the court should be concerned about the evidence of racism in the case.
"We are very confident that the court will rule and grant a stay," he said.
In his email, Johnson wrote: "Salvation! Inspiration! Peace! commemoration Should be Missouri and if I can make it by 2023, that's exactly what I'll be trying to do!"
The execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday.
57th Governor of Missouri
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