Former CPD officer recounts murders 27 years later as governor confirms plans to execute Ernest Johnson
COLUMBIA MO, (KMIZ)
Missouri is set to execute a man convicted of a brutal 1994 Columbia triple murder.
Gov. Mike Parson said in a statement Monday that the state will follow through with the execution of Ernest Lee Johnson, scheduled for Tuesday.
“The state is prepared to deliver justice and carry out the lawful sentence Mr. Johnson received in accordance with the Missouri Supreme Court's order,” Gov. Mike Parson said in the statement.
Johnson was convicted of killing three people at a Casey's General Store in 1994. The legal battle over his execution has carried on in the courts ever since. The pope was among those who wrote to Parson asking for clemency for Johnson.
Randy Boehm, a former Columbia police officer and chief, arrived at the store 27 years ago, the morning after the horrific murders of three of the store's employees.
Boehm was one of the investigating officers on the scene the next day involved in doing a perimeter search around the store. The crime happened not long before midnight and wasn't discovered until early the next morning, Boehm said.
"I think a deputy sheriff was the first one to arrive at the scene, somebody had come to get gas or do business and noticed the lights were still on doors were locked, and when the deputy sheriff looked in they saw that there had been some violence, saw some blood," Boehm said.
Boehm said he was not one of the first responders on the scene, but the responding officer said what he saw was horrific. Three Casey's employees -- Mary Bratcher, Mable Scruggs and Fred Jones -- had been brutally murdered.
"I did not go inside the Casey's. It's important that other officers not go inside so that they do not contaminate the evidence," Boehm said.
Boehm said he had never been to the scene of such a serious crime. Johnson used a hammer to attack his victims.
"It was extremely rare, not only that it was a triple homicide but the nature of the way the individuals were killed in was extremely rare," Boehm said. "... We originally thought they were shot, but it was later determined from the amount of blood and from the type injuries that most of the injuries were the result of using a hammer and a screwdriver. Very very brutal."
Boehm said it was not immediately evident who had committed the crime, but it did not take long to name a suspect after speaking to witnesses in the area. Johnson was a frequent customer and had been acting oddly in the store that day.
Boehm and other investigators spent the day after the murders combing through a field across the street and interviewing any witnesses in the area. Some evidence was recovered there, leading investigators to believe Johnson left through a field after the killings.
Boehm said the murders caused fear in Columbia.
"There was enough panic in the community it's something you remember for a long time, community members don't expect something like that to happen," he said. "It made people more uneasy and fearful. We started getting more calls at that time because people were concerned and watching everything, something that may have not caused fear at the time now it does."
Boehm said he is ready for the families to get justice for the victims. Regardless of whether Johnson is executed Tuesday, Boehm said he should never be released from prison.
"As a police officer that part of the judicial process is not really my job, you know our job was to respond and investigate the crime, identify the suspect and apprehend the suspect, gather the evidence and make the case to present to the prosecutor... What I would say is that an individual that committed that type of crime shouldn't be back in the community, whether that's execution or life in prison that's the judicial process to decide," Boehm said.
Johnson is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre.
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