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U.S. Supreme Court halts Ernest Lee Johnson’s execution

The state of Missouri has called off the execution of an inmate whose lethal injection was delayed by a last-minute ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Missouri Attorney General’s office spokeswoman Nanci Gonder confirmed that the execution of Ernest Lee Johnson wouldn’t be carried out on Wednesday.

Johnson was scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The state has 24 hours to carry out the lethal injection, but Gonder said the court case wouldn’t be resolved by then.

The Supreme Court stepped in Tuesday evening, ruling that 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals needed to reconsider part of the case.

The appeals court has not scheduled a hearing.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order granting a temporary stay of execution for Ernest Lee Johnson, the man scheduled to die Tuesday night for killing three people in Columbia in 1994.

The order said, “The application is granted pending the disposition of petitioner’s appeal. Petitioner’s complaint alleges that Missouri’s method of execution violates the Eighth Amendment as applied to a person with his particular medical condition.”

Since the 8th Court of Appeals will not rule on the issue by 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, the execution will not happen as scheduled. The Missouri Supreme Court will now have to set a new execution date.

Ernest Lee Johnson was convicted 20 years ago for the triple murder on Ballenger Lane in north Columbia.

Johnson’s lawyers tried several times to stop the execution in the last week.

Jeremy Weis and Brian Gaddy claim lethal injection will cause severe, painful seizures for Johnson.

In 2008, doctors removed part of a brain tumor found in Johnson that year.

Scar tissue and some of the remaining tumor could cause seizure’s with Missouri’s use of midazolam and pentobarbital in lethal injections.

Both the Missouri District Court and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument.

Federal law requires death row inmates to claim why an alternative method of execution would be better.

District judge Greg Kays said since the gas chamber, the only other legal form of execution in Missouri, isn’t readily available, Johnson can’t claim its a feasible alternative.

While there’s been little debate that Johnson killed Mable Scruggs, Mary Bratcher, and Fred Jones on February 12, 1994, the the Missouri Supreme Court made prosecutors re-try the death penalty three times.

Several family members of the victims are at the prison to witness the execution.

Lorrie Heichelbech, one of Mary Bratcher’s daughters, said she hopes people will remember how strong her mother was when she was alive.

Johnson would be the 18th person executed in Missouri since 2013.

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