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Thread: Ernest Lee Johnson - Missouri Death Row

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    Ernest Lee Johnson - Missouri Death Row




    Summary of Offense:

    At eleven o’clock, the morning of Saturday, February 12, 1994, Johnson bought a bottle of beer and a package of cigarettes at a Columbia, Missouri convenience store of which he was a frequent customer. He went to the store a second time later that day, but did not make a purchase. On one of these trips, he questioned the cashier about who would be working the next shift. The cashier told Johnson that she would be relieved at 5:00 p.m. by Mabel Scruggs and that the store would close at 11:00 p.m. Johnson left and returned a short time later, but stayed only a few minutes before leaving again. Just before the shift change at 5:00p.m., Johnson went to the store a fourth time, this time carrying a book bag over his shoulder. The cashier noticed Johnson staring at her while she deposited the money from her shift into the store safe. He did not do anything. Johnson went to his girlfriend’s house and purchased a twenty-dollar rock of crack cocaine from his girlfriend’s eighteen-year-old son, Rodriguez Grant. Johnson left and then later returned to buy two more rocks. He asked Rodriguez to lend him the .25 caliber pistol Johnson had given to him a couple of weeks earlier in exchange for crack cocaine. Rodriguez agrees, and he and Johnson test fires the pistol in the back yard. Johnson returned the gun a while later, claiming that it did not work. Still later, Johnson retrieved the gun and left again, wearing layers of clothing, a mask over his face, and black tennis shoes. Since January of 1994, Johnson had confided to Rodriguez his plans to hold up the convenience store, locking all but one employee in the back room and having the remaining employee open the safe.

    The next time Johnson returned to the house, from the direction of the convenience store, around 11:45 p.m., his face and clothes were spattered with blood. He came in through the back door and went downstairs to Rodriguez’s room. Johnson gave the pistol back to Rodriguez. Johnson then cleaned his tennis shoes, took off his clothes, put the clothes into a trash bag, and told his girlfriend’s sixteen-year-old son, Antwane Grant, to get rid of the bag. Johnson had a large amount of money sorted by denomination and he and Rodriguez counted it. Johnson then hid the money in an air vent. Rodriguez went back upstairs and soon smelled something burning. On returning downstairs, he found Johnson burning paper. At 1:12 a.m. the following morning, a deputy sheriff responded to a call to check on the convenience store for the possibility of a disturbance involving weapons. The store lights were still on. Through the windows, the officer saw that the cash register was open and the money vault was out and in the middle of the floor. He observed blood smears on the front door lock. City police officers arrived with the keys. Upon entering, they discovered two dead bodies and a .25 caliber shell casing in the bathroom. Another body and another .25 caliber shell casing were found inside the walk-in cooler. The safe was empty.

    All three victims were store employees: Mary Bratcher, age 46; Fred Jones, age 58; and Mabel Scruggs, age 57. Each victim died from head injuries that were consistent with a bloody hammer found at the scene. In addition, Mary Bratcher suffered at least ten stab wounds to her left hand consistent with a bloody flat-head screwdriver found in a field neat the store, and Fred Jones suffered a nonfatal, facial gunshot wound.

  2. #2
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    Triple-murder convict to appeal death sentence a third time

    A Boone County man convicted of first-degree murder has tried and failed to reverse his death sentences twice. Now, he's trying for a third time, and the Missouri Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the case Tuesday morning.

    Ernest Lee Johnson's case began nearly 17 years ago. Here's a timeline:

    * February 12, 1994 — Johnson, now 50, killed Fred Jones, Mary Bratcher and Mable Scruggs, employees at Casey’s General Store at 2200 Ballenger Lane, according to court documents.
    * May 1995 — Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder and given death sentences on all three counts. Johnson appealed the sentences.
    * 2003 — At the second penalty-phase proceeding, the Circuit Court imposed the death sentences as the jury recommended. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed the sentences because of a possibility that Johnson is mentally retarded, according to court documents.. The U.S. Supreme Court had previously ruled that executing a mentally retarded murderer is unconstitutional.
    * 2004 — A psychologist interviewed Johnson and examined his mental capacity. In the video of the interview, Johnson described the night of the crime, including how he killed the employees, according to a previous Missourian article.
    * 2006 — The jury at the third penalty-phase proceeding viewed the 2004 video of Johnson’s interview with a psychologist. The jury recommended the death penalties again. Members said they did not see strong enough evidence to prove that Johnson was retarded, according to court documents. But not all evidence about his mental state was presented.
    * 2009 — A defense team appealed the sentences again in Boone County Circuit Court, arguing several instances of ineffective assistance of counsel during the most recent penalty phase trial. Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton, however, denied its motion for relief. That decision lead to this week's hearing before the Supreme Court.

    Johnson's public defender, William Swift, is arguing that Johnson's previous attorneys failed to effectively present evidence of his mental state, failed to call a witness who might have testified about the possible involvement of another person in the crime and failed to object to the state's evidence and its closing argument

    In the 2009 trial, physician Richard Adler testified that Johnson had partial fetal alcohol syndrome and mild mental retardation, according to a previous Missourian article.

    Swift is also arguing that the Circuit Court was wrong to give Johnson the death penalty because it is imposed at higher rates in Boone County than in other counties around the state. The chance that a convicted killer will get the death penalty is the product of a "geographic lottery," he wrote in his brief.

    In the 2009 trial, David Sloss, a law professor at Santa Clara University, testified that according to his research, statistics showed a disproportionate percentage of death-eligible offenses in Boone County.

    http://www.columbiamissourian.com/st...ce-third-time/

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    Inmate Personal Information

    DOB: 08/20/1960
    Race: Black
    Gender: Male

    Crime and Trial Information

    * County of conviction: Boone
    * Number of counts: Three
    * Race of Victims: White/white/white
    * Gender of Victim: 2 Female / 1 Male
    * Date of crime: 02/12/1994
    * Date of Sentencing: 06/20/1995

    Legal Status

    Current Proceedings:
    post‐conviction complete; Habeas petition not yet filed

    Attorney

    Elizabeth Carlyle

    Court Opinions

    State v. Johnson, 968 S.W.2d 686 (Mo. banc 1998) (remanded for new penalty phase); State v. Johnson, 22 S.W.3d 183 (Mo. banc), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 935 (2000); Johnson v. State, 102 S.W.3d 535 (Mo. banc 2003) (remanded for new penalty phase); State v. Johnson, 244 S.W.3d 144 (Mo. banc) (affirming death sentence), cert. denied, 129 S.Ct. 172 (2008).

    29.15 motion for post-conviction relief denied by SC on 03/01/11

    Legal Issues

    On appeal after defendant was sentenced to death for the second time:
    (1) whether it was defendant's burden to prove that he was mentally retarded, for purposes of avoiding the death penalty;
    (2) whether the determination that defendant was not mentally retarded and thus that he could be put to death had to be resolved by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt;
    (3) whether the issue of defendant's mental retardation claim was for the jury;
    (4) if the issue of whether the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors was for the jury;
    (5) whether the trial court abused its discretion in sustaining State's challenges for cause to venire members;
    (6) whether the trial court abused its discretion by admitting color photographs of crime scene and autopsies; and
    (7) proportionalty of death sentence

  4. #4
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    Supreme Court rejects Ernest Johnson appeal

    A Columbia man who was convicted of murdering three Casey’s General Store employees in 1994 and is awaiting the death penalty will not receive a new penalty phase, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled today.

    The court issued its opinion striking Ernest Lee Johnson’s latest appeal for post-conviction relief. The appeal is the fifth time Johnson has sought a ruling from the high court.

    Johnson, 49, was convicted in 1995 of using a hammer on Feb. 12, 1994, to fatally bludgeon Mary Bratcher, 46, Mable Scruggs, 57, and Fred Jones, 58, while robbing Casey’s General Store on Ballenger Lane. Johnson’s mental capabilities have been the focus of his appeals.

    In early December, Johnson’s defense argued that his previous counsel was ineffective because an unqualified expert witness was called to testify about Johnson’s alleged mental retardation. That expert witness was Denis Keyes, whom the Missouri Supreme Court had rejected testimony from in a similar case before Johnson’s second sentencing trial.

    In the similar case, Keyes’ testimony was declared inadequate. He testified that he heavily relied on the testimony of family members of defendant Paul Goodwin, who were biased toward getting their family member off death row. Goodwin was sentenced to death for a 1996 murder in St. Louis County.

    Despite knowledge of the previous court ruling, Johnson’s defense proceeded and ran into its own difficulties with Keyes’ reluctance to attend a hearing or review materials before testimony, said Johnson’s attorney, Bill Swift of the Missouri Public Defender’s Office.

    “On the facts of that case, Dr. Keyes’s testimony did not have the evidentiary support or reliability necessary to warrant relief,” Justice Zel Fischer wrote in today’s opinion, referring to the Goodwin case. “Here, arguably Dr. Keyes’s testimony was based on objective factors, unlike his testimony in Goodwin. … Even though there were issues of credibility related to Dr. Keyes, the decision to call him was reasonable trial strategy.”

    Keyes’ expertise has been used in two other capital punishment cases in which the defendants were declared mentally retarded.

    The case is No. SC90582 JOHNSON v. STATE

    http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/...ohnson-appeal/

  5. #5
    Administrator Moh's Avatar
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    On March 30, 2011, Johnson filed a habeas petition in Federal District Court.

    http://dockets.justia.com/docket/mis...cv08001/98745/

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    On February 20, 2013, and September 26, 2013, the Federal District Court DENIED Johnson a Certificate of Appealability.

    ERNEST JOHNSON v TROY STEELE

    ERNEST JOHNSON v TROY STEELE

    On October 1, 2013, Johnson appealed these decisions to the US Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

    http://dockets.justia.com/docket/cir...s/ca8/13-3162/

  7. #7
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    On December 11, 2013, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit DENIED Johnson's appeal. Subsequently, on February 5, 2014, the Eighth Circuit DENIED Johnson's petition for rehearing en banc.

    http://www.supremecourt.gov/Search.a...s/13-10014.htm

  8. #8
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    In today's orders, the United States Supreme Court declined to review Johnson's petition for certiorari.

    Appeals exhausted. Ruling could result in an execution date.

    Lower Ct: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
    Case Nos.: (13-3162)
    Decision Date: December 11, 2013
    Rehearing Denied: February 5, 2014
    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

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    Death row inmate seeks medical evaluation

    A medical examination done Friday on a death row inmate convicted in a 1994 Columbia triple murder is expected to determine whether a benign brain tumor will cause complications with the state’s lethal injection protocol, according to federal court documents.

    Ernest Lee Johnson has been in prison since June 1995, and a noncancerous tumor was discovered in his brain years later. Doctors removed part of the tumor in 2008, and the last scan of Johnson’s brain, in 2011, showed the remaining tumor wasn’t growing, according to a motion filed in June by one of his attorneys, Kansas City-based Jeremy Weis. The motion requested funding to hire physician Joel Zivot, assistant professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University’s School of Medicine and the medical director of the cardio-thoracic intensive care unit at Emory University Hospital, to examine and evaluate Johnson.

    Chief Judge Greg Kays of the Western District of Missouri in late June approved $7,200 for Zivot to review Johnson’s medical records and perform another scan of the condemned man’s brain, as well as to pay for travel time, consultation with attorneys and help in drafting an affidavit. Zivot will “render an expert medical opinion as to how Mr. Johnson will respond to the lethal injection drugs and whether he will respond differently than other Missouri inmates due to his unique medical condition,” Weis wrote.

    Weis and Johnson’s other attorney, William Gaddy, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Michael Spillane, a Missouri assistant attorney general, is representing Troy Steele, the warden of Potosi Correctional Center, where Johnson is being held, who is named as the defendant in the case. Nanci Gonder, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the examination was conducted on Friday and that Spillane is waiting to obtain a copy of Zivot’s findings. Johnson’s next court date has not been set.

    The most recent federal litigation continues a flurry of post-conviction proceedings for Johnson. Johnson was convicted in 1995 of the Feb. 12, 1994, murders of Fred Jones, 58, Mary Bratcher, 46, and Mable Scruggs, 57. His death sentence was twice overturned, in 1999 and 2003. The Missouri Supreme Court in 2008 affirmed a 2006 Pettis County jury’s decision to put Johnson back on death row, despite arguments from his attorneys that his IQ was in the 60s, far below the average of 100. Attorneys had previously gotten the sentence reversed because of Johnson’s mental retardation. The state’s highest court in 2008 had ruled his representation hadn’t successfully proven Johnson’s mental handicap.

    As Jones, Bratcher and Scruggs closed a Casey’s General Store on Ballenger Lane, Johnson came in armed with a handgun and robbed the cash register before bludgeoning the victims to death with a hammer and flat-head screwdriver.

    Johnson’s case went to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in early 2013. A three-judge panel in December that year denied his application for appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2014 denied a petition to hear the case. Nothing has been filed in the pending U.S. District Court case since Kays approved Zivot’s examination on June 22.

    http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/...0ca9faf50.html

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    Missouri inmate’s execution set for 1994 triple slaying

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri Supreme Court has scheduled a November execution for an inmate convicted of killing three workers at a Columbia convenience store more than two decades ago.

    The state’s high court issued the execution order Tuesday for 55-year-old Ernest Lee Johnson, scheduling his death by injection for Nov. 3.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/...94-triple-sla/
    "I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions."
    - Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian

    "There are some people who just do not deserve to live,"
    - Rev. Richard Hawke

    "Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence"
    - Edgar Allan Poe

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