Missouri officials executed Kevin Johnson, Jr. this evening by lethal injection, despite evidence of pervasive racial bias in his prosecution.


BONNE TERRE, Mo. — Missouri officials executed Kevin Johnson, Jr. this evening by lethal injection, despite evidence of pervasive racial bias in his prosecution.

In an unprecedented move, a prosecuting attorney acting on behalf of the St. Louis Prosecutor’s Office filed a motion to vacate Mr. Johnson’s conviction, concluding race played a decisive and unconstitutional factor at every stage of Mr. Johnson’s prosecution — including then-prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s decision to pursue the death penalty and in the prosecution’s jury selection that intentionally removed Black jurors.

When a lower court denied the motion to vacate, the prosecuting attorney and Mr. Johnson’s legal team appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, asking it to stay the execution until a court could consider the evidence of racial bias. The Missouri Supreme Court denied the motion to stay last night.

The state executed Mr. Johnson despite a prosecutor’s conclusion that the conviction was too tainted by racial bias to stand, and without a court examining the substance of the constitutional challenge.

Mr. Johnson’s 19-year-old daughter, Corionsa “Khorry” Ramey was not able to be a witness at her father’s execution, despite her and her father’s wishes.  Mr. Johnson had been an active and involved parent in his daughter’s life, even though he had been incarcerated since he was 19 and his daughter was two.

The American Civil Liberties Union represented Ms. Ramey as she challenged a Missouri law barring people under 21 from being witnesses at an execution. A federal court denied her petition last week.

The following statements can be attributed as noted:

Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project:

“Our thoughts are with Mr. Johnson’s family and loved ones, especially his daughter, Khorry. The state has taken Mr. Johnson’s life without fully hearing and deliberating a prosecutor’s conclusions that racial bias played a decisive and illegal role in his conviction and sentence.

“The prosecutor’s conclusions about Mr. Johnson’s case are consistent with decades of research showing the death penalty is a racist punishment, where a Black person charged with the death of a white victim is far more likely to be sentenced to death. Mr. Johnson should have had the opportunity to show this constitutional violation in court.

“Missouri officials have a duty to uphold the Constitution, and our Constitution bars racial discrimination. Punishment and vengeance overpowered the pursuit of fairness, equal protection and justice.”

 Anthony Rothert, director of integrated advocacy, ACLU of Missouri:

“The stain of the ex-prosecutor’s documented history of racial discrimination when it came to death-penalty eligible cases is made permanent now that Missouri imposed an arbitrary expiration on an individual’s life. Missouri’s refusal to allow an investigation into the systemic racism — that its own special prosecutor recognized as the cause of this death sentence — delays an overdue reckoning with how Missouri’s justice system perpetuates white supremacy.”