JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – One week from Tuesday, a St. Louis man will be executed for the 2005 murder of a police officer, but the day before he is set to die by lethal injection, the state’s highest court will hear arguments on why they should halt the execution.
Less than 36 hours before Kevin Johnson’s execution on Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court will decide whether he should be spared and the case remanded to the circuit court. Johnson’s attorney, Shawn Nolan, said a special prosecutor assigned to the case last month found new evidence.
“The easiest way for them to do it is just said, ‘Let’s put a hold on this. Let’s just stay the execution while we consider all these things,'” Nolan said.
For more than a decade, Johnson has sat on death row after being convicted in 2007 for the killing of 46-year-old Kirkwood Police Sgt. William McEntee. Johnson was 19 at the time of the murder.
“These claims that have been raised have never really been heard by any court, even though we’ve raised them repeatedly,” Nolan said. “We’re really hopeful that the Missouri Supreme Court is really going to take a closer look at this.”
Nolan is a federal public defender who has represented Johnson for a handful of years. He claims racism played a role in the decision to seek the death penalty.
“Our hope is that the Missouri Supreme Court will grant the stay to stop the execution and send this case back to the lower court for the evidentiary development so that the special prosecutor and us can present our evidence of racial basis in this case to the lower court,” Nolan said.
During Johnson’s first trial in 2007, the jury was in a deadlock, giving him the lesser offense of second degree murder. Months later, a new jury found him guilty of first degree murder.
McEntee was one of the police officers sent to Johnson’s house on July 5, 2005, to serve a warrant for his arrest. Johnson was on probation for assaulting his girlfriend and police believed he violated probation. After waking his 12-year-old brother, Joseph “Bam Bam” Long, the boy ran to his grandmother’s house next store where we began having a seizure and collapsed.
Johnson testified at trial saying that McEntee kept his mother from entering the house to help his brother. Bam Bam died later at the hospital.
Later that night, when McEntee returned to the neighborhood to check on a report of fireworks, Johnson shot McEntee, killing him.
“There’s not a request for the court to just vacate it [his sentence] and Kevin goes home, that’s not what happens,” Nolan said regarding what would happen if the Supreme Court stay the execution. “We would go back to the circuit court, which is the trial court, and the special prosecutor will preset the evidence that he has uncovered in the last month that he has had the case.”
A special prosecutor was assigned to the case after a new law passed by the Missouri General Assembly last year allowing a prosecutor to file a motion to vacate and set aside a judgement if the convicted person “may be innocent or erroneously convicted.”
Johnson’s daughter, 19-year-old Khorry Ramey, is asking the governor to grant her father clemency.
“It’s really a good relationship, he’s been my only living parent for a majority of my life,” Ramey said. “My mom, she passed away when I was four, so all I know is my dad.”
If clemency is not granted, Ramey wants to be in the room with her dad when he is executed by lethal injection on Nov. 29, but under state law, people under 21 are prohibited from witnessing an execution.
“She is the same age now that Kevin was when he committed that crime and that’s an ironic fact right there,” Nolan said. “The state of Missouri will allow the execution of someone who was 19 when they committed a crime but they won’t allow his daughter in because she’s 19. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
Ramey was 2 when Johnson was incarcerated. Last month, Ramey brought her newborn son to the prison to meet his grandfather.
Johnson has also requested that Ramey attend the execution. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an emergency motion with a federal court in Kansas City saying the law violates Ramey’s constitutional rights.
Nolan said his clemency hearing with the governor’s team last week went well and he’s waiting to hear back.
Johnson’s family is hoping these last-minute efforts halt his execution.
“Your past doesn’t define you; you can do something horrific in your past, but you can be a better person today,” Ramey said. “Even though he has all of this on his shoulders he’s going through all of this, he’s still trying to be there for his daughter and his grandson.”
Last week, a petition containing more than 20,000 signatures was delivered to Gov. Mike Parson’s office asking him to grant clemency.
A spokeswoman for Parson said in a statement the clemency process is still underway.
“As with all clemency decisions, clemency applications are submitted to the Parole Board for review and recommendation. The materials are then sent from the Parole Board to the Governor’s Legal Team who conduct an extensive review and meet with the Governor on the matter. The Governor then considers the matter and makes a decision when he is prepared to do so. These are not decisions that the Governor takes lightly, and the process is underway as it relates to the execution scheduled for later this month.”
The Kirkwood Police Department did not want to comment on the case. McEntee was a 19-year veteran of the force and left behind a wife and three children.
McEntee’s wife told the judge in 2008 when Johnson was sentenced, justice could only be served if Johnson paid with his own life.