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Appeals court rejects Columbia death row inmate’s case

Ernest Lee Johnson
KMIZ archive
Ernest Lee Johnson


A Columbia man once again lost his claim to avoid the death penalty.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Ernest Lee Johnson's lawsuit should be dismissed following a U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding another Missouri inmate.

Johnson has faced the death penalty for two decades after killing three people at a Columbia convenience store in 1994. Johnson's execution was halted in 2015 when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling asked a lower court to review his case.

Johnson claims scar tissue from a brain tumor removal could cause him painful seizures after he's injected with pentobarbital, the lethal drug the state uses in injections. His case since then has gone up and down the court system, most recently winning with the appeals court to let his case continue.

The high court asked the 8th Circuit to review Johnson's case after it made a 5-4 decision to uphold Russell Bucklew's execution last year. Bucklew also argued his medical condition would make lethal injection cruel and unusual punishment, and unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Both Bucklew and Johnson asked the state instead use nitrogen-induced hypoxia, a method not yet used in the United States for executions.

The appeals court, though, said the Bucklew decision had changed the judges' perspective. Quoting the high court decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the appeals court said states can reject an alternative method of execution out of concern of its novelty.

"The Court ruled categorically that 'choosing not to be the first to experiment with a new method of execution is a legitimate reason to reject it,' and explained that the Eighth Amendment 'does not compel a State to adopt ‘untried and untested’ (and thus unusual in the constitutional sense) methods of execution,'" the opinion said.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.. shows for ABC 17 News and reports on the investigative stories.


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