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Man’s execution date set in Columbia triple murder

On Wednesday, officials set an execution date for a man convicted in a Columbia triple murder back in the early 90s.

The state scheduled lethal injection for Ernest Lee Johnson November 3, 2015, at 6 p.m.

Johnson was found guilty of killing three employees with a claw hammer in February 1994 at the former Casey’s General Store on Ballenger Lane in east Columbia, before the store was re-modeled and re-named.

The victims are 46-year-old Mary Bratcher, 57-year-old Mable Scruggs and 58-year-old Fred Jones.

A jury found Johnson guilty in 1995 for the murders. Police found a screwdriver used to stab one of the victims in a field across the street from the old store, and Johnson’s bloody clothing in a nearby park. Johnson’s girlfriend’s son helped him dispose of the clothing, and gun used during the robbery, but then showed police where it was hidden.

While the jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death, the Missouri Supreme Court has overturned that penalty twice, in 1998 and 2003. A Pettis County jury reaffirmed the death penalty punishment for Johnson in 2006, during a four-day hearing.

Johnson’s lawyers cited hardships in his childhood and a below average IQ to avoid the death penalty, instead arguing for life in prison without parole. Growing up in Charleston, Missouri, an appeal from 2002 said, Johnson’s parents left him with other family members. The two would abuse drugs and alcohol, and often shared them with Johnson and his siblings at a young age. Johnson’s IQ hovered between the 60 and 80 range, below the average of 100. The 2002 appeal claimed it would be “cruel and unusual” to put him to death, as Johnson could be considered mentally retarded.

The state Supreme Court last rejected Johnson’s appeal in 2011.

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