Post by SoulTrainOz on Jun 13, 2006 21:41:53 GMT -5
by Bob Priddy
A man convicted of killing three convenience store employees in Columbia has been sentenced to death, again. The sentence for Ernest Lee Johnson is the same as it was the first two times. His first two convictions were thrown out by the state supreme court on different grounds. Johnson has been convicted of beating the three people to death with a claw hammer. Johnson claims he was high on crack cocaine at the time and used most of the money he stole to buy more of the drug.
Post by SoulTrainOz on Jun 13, 2006 22:02:12 GMT -5
The Columbia man responsible for the 1994 murders of three Casey's General Store employees was sentenced to death for the third time Monday. Judge Gene Hamilton of the 13th Circuit followed the jury's recommendation despite the defense's insistence that the killer, Ernest Lee Johnson, is mentally retarded.
A cousin of Fred Jones, one of Johnson's victims, said there was still no closure for his and other victim's families.
"We've just gone on to the next step," the cousin, Jerry Blakey, said. "This is very stressful on a family."
Johnson planned to rob the Casey's store on Ballenger Lane for crack money on the night Feb. 12, 1994. The robbery ended in the murder of the three employees in the store.
Johnson was first sentenced to death by lethal injection in 1995, but three years later the Missouri Supreme Court granted him an appeal because the defense failed to call a witness who could have testified that Johnson was mentally retarded. The jury, however, sentenced him to death.
He was granted a second appeal in 2003 from the Missouri Supreme Court based on the U.S Supreme Court's ruling on Atkins v. Virginia, a 2001 case in which the court found it unconstitutional to execute a person with diminished mental capacity.
That February night, Johnson entered Casey's wearing a mask to hide his identity from the store employees who knew him as a regular customer. He demanded money from the store's safe from Mary Bratcher, whom he knew kept the key to the safe. She said she had lost the key, but when Johnson saw her trying to flush it down the toilet, he "lost it," he testified previously.
Though armed with a gun, Johnson bludgeoned Bratcher and two other store employees, Fred Jones and Mabel Scruggs, to death with a claw hammer. Their injuries were so severe that police at first thought they had been shotgunned to death.
In previous testimony, Johnson said he was under the influence of cocaine that night and left Casey's with $1,700, $1,100 of which he used to purchase more crack.
In the most recent sentencing trial, Johnson's defense tried to prove that he was mentally retarded and that a poor home situation had sent him on a path that led to the Casey's murders.
But a Pettis County jury recommended the death penalty after less than three hours of deliberation.
Blakey said he strongly believes that Johnson is not mentally retarded.
"If a person can plan and execute this, and then cover his tracks, that shows forethought," he said.
Johnson's death penalty conviction will automatically be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Blakey said he'd learned one thing from the cycle of appeals and convictions: "There's no such thing as an open-and-shut case," he said. "But I still have faith in the legal system."