Sixty-eight-year-old inmate Don Johnson is scheduled to receive a lethal injection for his conviction in the 1984 suffocation of his wife, Connie Johnson. He initially blamed the slaying on a work-release inmate who confessed to helping dispose of the body and who was granted immunity for testifying against Johnson.
Barring last-minute intervention, Johnson would become the fourth person executed in Tennessee since August. The last two inmates executed in Tennessee chose the electric chair, saying they believed it offered a quicker and less painful death than the state’s default method of lethal injection.
Johnson has spent half his life on death row and seen three execution dates come and go as his appeals played out in court, including challenges to Tennessee’s lethal injection protocols. The state’s present default method is a three-drug combination that includes the sedative midazolam, which inmates have claimed causes a prolonged and excruciating death. Legal challenges to that lethal injection have appeared to stall, at least temporarily, and three more executions are scheduled this year in Tennessee after Johnson’s.
Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that he would not intervene , following “prayerful and deliberate consideration” of Johnson’s clemency request.
Religious leaders, including the president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, to which Johnson belongs, had asked Lee to spare Johnson’s life. Supporters of clemency said Johnson had undergone a religious conversion and cited his Christian ministry to fellow inmates. Johnson is an ordained elder of the church in Nashville.
Connie Johnson’s daughter, Cynthia Vaughn, has said she’s forgiven Johnson and joined in the request for clemency. Other relatives had sent a letter to the governor asking that the execution move forward. “I ask you to please bring justice to our family after 35 years of exhausted heartache, sorrow, and emptiness,” wrote the victim’s sister, Margaret Davis.
Johnson’s attorneys have said he did not intend to file any last-minute legal challenges.
On Wednesday, the inmate’s attorneys made public a statement from Johnson to his son, stepdaughter and other members of Connie Johnson’s family in which he begged for their forgiveness. “I am truly sorry and if I knew something that I could do to ease your pain I would gladly do it,” Johnson wrote.
On Thursday, Johnson’s attorneys said the inmate declined to request a special last meal, instead asking supporters to provide a meal to a homeless person. The Nashville church where the inmate is an ordained elder was collecting grocery gift cards for a meal next week for the homeless and planned a vigil as the execution hour loomed.
Alabama also was set to administer a lethal injection Thursday evening to 41-year-old Michael Brandon Samra. He and a friend, Mark Duke, were convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Duke’s father, the father’s girlfriend and the woman’s two elementary-age daughters in 1997 after a dispute over use of a pickup truck.
Duke’s sentence was subsequently overturned because he was 16 at the time of the killings and the Supreme Court later banned executing inmates younger than 18 at the time of their crimes. The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to consider extending its ban on executing juvenile offenders to people as old as 20 when they committed their crimes, denying a stay to Samra . He was 19 at the time of the quadruple murder.