A 19-year-old woman is asking a federal court to allow her to watch her father’s death by injection, despite a Missouri law that prevents anyone under 21 from witnessing an execution.
Kevin Johnson faces execution on November 29 for the 2005 killing of William McEntee, a Kirkwood, Missouri police officer. Johnson’s lawyers have pending appeals trying to spare his life.
Meanwhile, Johnson has requested that his daughter, Khorry Ramey, attend the execution, and she wants to be there. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an emergency motion in federal court in Kansas City. The ACLU’s lawsuit said the law, which prevents anyone under 21 from witnessing an execution, serves no safety purpose and violates Ramey’s constitutional rights.
Ramey, in a court statement, called Johnson “the most important person in my life.”
“If my father was dying in the hospital, I would sit by his bedside and hold his hand and pray for him until his death, both as a source of support for him and as a support for me as a necessary part of my grieving process and for my peace of mind,” Ramey said.
Johnson, now 37, has been incarcerated since Ramey was 2. The ACLU said the two have been able to build a bond through visits, phone calls, emails and letters. Last month, she brought her newborn son to prison to meet his grandfather.
“I have a son who needs his father, and I’m a daughter who needs her father,” Ramey said, according to CBS affiliate KMOV.
ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert said that if Ramey cannot attend the execution, it will cause her “irreparable harm.”
Michelle Smith, spokeswoman for Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, told KMOV that if a person can be sentenced to death at 19, his family member has the right to be a witness when the state executes her father.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s lawyers have filed an appeal to stay the execution. They do not contest his guilt, but argue that racism played a role in the decision to seek the death penalty and in the jury’s decision to sentence him to die. Johnson is black and McEntee was white.
Johnson’s lawyers have also asked the courts to intervene for other reasons, including a history of mental illness and his age – he was 19 at the time of the crime. Courts have increasingly moved away from sentencing teenagers to death since the Supreme Court in 2005 banned the execution of offenders who were younger than 18 at the time of their crime.
In a lawsuit last week before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office said there was no basis for court intervention.
“The surviving victims of Johnson’s crimes have waited long enough for justice, and every day longer they have to wait is a day they are denied the chance to finally come to terms with their loss,” the state filing said.
McEntee, a husband and father of three, was among the police officers sent to Johnson’s home on July 5, 2005, to serve an arrest warrant. Johnson was on probation for assaulting his girlfriend, and police believed he had violated his probation.
Johnson saw officers arrive and woke her 12-year-old brother, Joseph “Bam Bam” Long, who ran next door to their grandmother’s house. While there, the boy, who suffered from a congenital heart defect, collapsed and began to have a seizure.
Johnson testified at trial that McEntee kept his mother from entering the house to help his brother, who died a short time later at a hospital.
Later that evening, McEntee returned to the neighborhood to check on unrelated reports of fireworks being set off. That’s when he ran into Johnson.
Johnson pulled a gun and shot the officer. He then approached the wounded, kneeling officer and shot him again, killing him.
The execution would be the first of three in the coming months in Missouri. The state plans to execute convicted murderers Scott McLaughlin on January 3rd and Leonard Taylor on February 7th.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Missouri has 20 inmates on death row.
Sixteen men have been executed in the United States this year. Alabama inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith was scheduled to die Thursday for killing a former ex-wife in a murder-for-hire plot, but the execution was halted because government officials could not find a suitable vein to inject the lethal drugs.