Archive for

2021



The Execution of Ernest Lee Johnson

Yesterday at 6:11 p.m., the State of Missouri executed Ernest Lee Johnson, a man with intellectual disability whose 2008 surgery to remove a brain tumor also took 20% of his brain.

In his last statement before he was executed, Mr. Johnson expressed his remorse for the 1994 murders of three convenience store employees, Mary Bratcher, Fred Jones, and Mabel Scruggs. He continued, “I want to say that I love my family and friends,” adding that he was also grateful for his lawyer. “For all the people that has prayed for me I thank them.”

According to The New York Times, after several court challenges to his death sentence over the years because of testing and deficits that demonstrated his intellectual disability, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in August that the fact that Mr. Johnson could remember details of the crime showed he was able “to plan, strategize, and problem solve–contrary to a finding of substantial subaverage intelligence.” 

Former Missouri Governor Bob Holden sent a letter to Governor Mike Parsons, asking him to commute Mr. Johnson’s death sentence.

In that letter, Holden stated that Mr. Johnson had a history of medical documentation of his intellectual disability and was likely was born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Mr. Johnson’s communication skills were like that of a 5-year-old child. 

“None of this excuses what Johnson did,” Mr. Holden wrote. “But if our state is to be guided by the rule of law, we must temper our understandable anger with reason and compassion for the most vulnerable among us, including Ernest Johnson.”

On December 13, in a Shelby County courtroom, a hearing will begin for Pervis Payne, another man facing execution who is also living with intellectual disability.

In passing and signing legislation to update the definition of intellectual disability in the Tennessee criminal code and to provide a legal path for some already on death row to have their ID claims fully heard by the courts, the Tennessee General Assembly and Governor Lee did the right thing. 

The Shelby County DA’s office could still do the right thing too, by acknowledging Mr. Payne’s intellectual disability and allowing him to be removed from death row. 

We must not allow what happened to Ernest Johnson happen to Pervis Payne. 

Read the New York Times article. 

Free Pervis Payne Rallies Planned for Sept. 8, from 4-5 p.m. CT

On Wednesday, Sept. 8, from 4-5 p.m. CT (5-6 p.m. ET), join with one of 20 groups (and counting!) to rally across Tennessee and from coast to coast to show support for Pervis Payne.

These rallies mark the year anniversary of weekly rallies to Free Pervis Payne, held on the corner of Union and McLean in Memphis.

Please bring your signs, saying: “Free Pervis Payne,” “Justice for Pervis Payne,” etc. and join one of the rallies listed below:
Rally Locations, 4-5 p.m. CT / 5-6 p.m. ET
Memphis:  Corner of Union and McLean 

Cordova: St. Luke Lutheran Church, 2000 Germantown Parkway

Memphis Friends Meeting, 3387 Walnut Grove Road, with rally at the corner of Walnut Grove Road and Prescott St., 4:00-5:30

Munford: St. Mark AME Church, 842 Tipton Road, 4:30-5:30 p.m.

Bolivar: Market St. and Polk, 4-5 p.m. CT

Murfreesboro:  Sidewalk in front of Jason’s Deli, 452 N. Thompson Lane

Knoxville:  Messiah Lutheran Church, 6900 Kingston Pike

Nashville (four locations): 

Corner of John Lewis Way N. and James Robertson Parkway

Second Presbyterian Church, 3511 Belmont Boulevard

West End United Methodist Church, 2200 West End Avenue

Additional Nashville Rally, from 5-6 p.m. CT, at Christ the King, 3001 Belmont Blvd. Meet at the corner of Gale Lane and Belmont Blvd.

If you can’t make it to one of these rallies, you can also invite a few friends and find a street corner to bear witness in your town.

We ask that everyone take photos and post to social media during the rally, using #FreePervisPayne. 

You are also invited to participate in the Power Up for Pervis Payne Facebook Livestream on Sept. 8 at Noon CT. The Innocence Project will feature this event on its Facebook page to provide an update on Mr. Payne’s case.

The host of the Facebook livestream will be Joia Thornton (formerly with TADP and now with the Southern Center for Human Rights).

Speakers for the livestream are: Kelley Henry and Vanessa Potkin, attorneys for Pervis Payne; Rolanda Holman, Pervis Payne’s sister and advocate; and Ndume Olatushani, a man wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Tennessee, who spent 20 years on death row before his release.

You can find the event invite at https://fb.me/e/2sw0txEgO

To learn more about Mr. Payne case visit https://tinyrul.com/2da9sznm or visit www.pervispayne.org

A Message from TADP Board Chair Sarah Miller

I wanted to reach out after the April 20th verdict in which a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd. The case against Derek Chauvin was just one case where a just verdict was found, after early and sustained efforts of many people outside of the criminal legal system, like 17-year-old Darnella Frazier who witnessed and taped the murder.

As we all know, the death penalty is a continuation of the ugly legacy of both the judicial and extrajudicial lynchings of Black people in America, and it is all too clear that we must do more to address the brutal impact of this legacy within our criminal legal system.

In the face of these daunting challenges, I was heartened to hear yesterday’s verdict, and I am so inspired by the people who made it possible. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you all that I so appreciate and am so inspired by the work that all of you do to abolish the death penalty and save lives.

Many people are speaking right now about the murder of George Floyd, police brutality, and the systemic racism in America much more knowledgeably and eloquently than I can, but I wanted to convey, as we continue to fight for Pervis Payne and others like him, and against the systemic racism in our criminal legal system, that I am so grateful to know and work with and learn from you all. –Sarah Miller

Death Penalty Information Center’s Special Report: The Innocence Epidemic

On February 18, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) added 11 people to its innocence list, bringing to the number of wrongfully convicted individuals sentenced to death in the U.S. since 1973 to 185.  
The new data demonstrate that for every eight people who have been put to death in the U.S. since executions resumed in the 1970s, one person who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death has been exonerated.
DPIC researched every death sentence in the U.S. since 1973 (more than 9,600 death sentences nationwide) and discovered 11 cases of exonerations that were not previously included on the innocence list. 
“Everybody’s worst fear about capital punishment is that innocent people will be wrongfully convicted and executed,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC’s Executive Director.
“But the more we learn about what actually happens in these cases, the worse the problem gets. As long as the legal system involves humans, it is guaranteed to make mistakes. But most innocent people who are wrongfully convicted and sent to death row don’t get there by mistake. The data from these 185 exonerations shows that far more frequently, and particularly with people of color, innocent death row prisoners were convicted because of a combination of police or prosecutorial misconduct and perjury or other false testimony.” The data, Dunham said, “raises serious questions as to whether we can trust the government to fairly, honestly, and reliably carry out the death penalty.” 
According to DPIC, of the 185 exonerations that have occurred since 1973, 69.1 percent (128) have included official misconduct by police, prosecutors, or other government officials. Official misconduct was much more likely in cases involving defendants of color, cases in which exonerations took two decades or more, and cases in which DNA evidence was a significant factor in proving innocence–all of which are also factors in the case of Pervis Payne.
In addition to the 185 individuals who have been exonerated, there are other individuals whose names may finally be added to the list as the fight to exonerate them continues, including two cases from Shelby County.
Pervis Payne, a Black man with intellectual disability, has maintained his innocence for over 30 years. He was convicted in Shelby County, which has a long history of lynchings and racial terror, after the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence and argued, without evidence, that Mr. Payne was a drug abusing superpredator looking to rape a white woman.
April Alley, the daughter of Sedley Alley, a man executed in 2006 after a court denied DNA testing based on a case that has since been overturned, is currently petitioning for posthumous DNA testing. Mr. Alley said that he was coerced into falsely confessing to a murder, which is supported by details in his statement that do not match the forensic evidence. An expert in false confessions has concluded that Mr. Alley’s confession was likely false.
“The Death Penalty Information Center’s findings are alarming, but not surprising,” Christina Swarns, Executive Director of the Innocence Project, said. “Racism pervades every stage of the criminal legal system and sends far too many innocent people of color to prison and to the execution chamber. The good news is that more Americans are now taking this issue seriously.”
Kirk Bloodsworth, Executive Director of Witness to Innocence and the first death-row survivor to be exonerated by DNA, said the addition of 11 new people to DPIC’s innocence list makes him certain that “innocent people are still on death row today.” He added, “with such a large number of mistakes uncovered, there’s no need to wonder anymore, we can also be sure that innocent people have been executed.” 
Read the report at https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/facts-and-research/dpic-reports/dpic-special-report-the-innocence-epidemic
Read Tennessean article at https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/crime/2021/02/24/tennessee-death-penalty-wrongful-convictions-death-row-lawsuits/4547127001
Pictured Tennessee death row exoneree Paul House and his mother, Joyce House.