Missouri’s culture of death must stop. Granting Kevin Johnson mercy is a good first step

November 23, 2022 5:55 am

Kevin Johnson Jr. with his daughter, Corionsa Ramey, and his grandson (Photo courtesy of the ACLU of Missouri).

The Missouri NAACP has a travel advisory in the state highlighting that if you are a person of color in Missouri, you have got to be careful. You will not have the complete protection of the law in the courts nor on the streets.

The execution of Kevin Johnson, planned for Nov. 29, is but one more reason the NAACP travel advisory remains in effect.

Through its high use of the death penalty, Missouri is separating itself in many ways from other parts of the county and other parts of the world. This love of death which has grown to maturity in Missouri, needs to stop.

Kevin Johnson is set to be executed by the state of Missouri for a crime committed at just 19 years old, just hours after watching his baby brother die in front of his eyes.

His childhood was filled with physical and mental abuse, devastating hunger, poverty and isolation. Johnson remembers being so hungry as a child that he would try to eat roaches and mice to quell the pain. After his mother fell victim to crack cocaine, he was sent to live with his aunt who severely physically abused him. His teachers describe him showing up to school reeking of urine, but no one ever intervened to get him the help he needed.

On the evening of July 5, 2005, police officer William McEntee and others entered a family residence to serve a warrant. During the search, Johnson’s 12-year old brother, Joseph Long, suffered a seizure and collapsed in the home they were searching.

Johnson watched the officers ignore his brother’s obvious medical distress, stepping over his limp body several times but never getting him help. Officers even prevented Long’s mother from entering the house to help. Two hours after he died, McEntee came back to Johnson’s neighborhood responding to a report of fireworks. A chance encounter with Johnson ensued.

Emotionally distraught and overwhelmed, Johnson said, “you killed my brother,” before shooting officer McEntee multiple times.

At Johnson’s first trial, the jury rejected the first-degree murder charge, resulting in a hung jury. In the second trial, the prosecutor eliminated potential Black jurors, ensuring a predominately white jury. Johnson’s court appointed lawyers failed to present abundant mitigating evidence to the jury that might have resulted in him being spared the death penalty.

Johnson expresses deep remorse and takes full accountability for what he did. While incarcerated, he continues to improve his life and work hard to be a caring, devoted and present father to his teenage daughter, Khorry, who adores him and relies on his support.

Why do we engage all Missourians in the act of murder to punish Johnson, which is the exact same conduct for which he is being executed? It doesn’t provide any example for our children or our community.

Our culture of death has got to stop. It begins with us today. Kevin Johnson is worthy of mercy.

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Nimrod Chapel Jr.
Nimrod Chapel Jr.

Nimrod Chapel Jr. is board chair of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He is the founder and owner of The Chapel Law Group, president of the Missouri State NAACP Conference and life member and President of the Jefferson City NAACP. He also served as past general counsel and director of legal services for the Missouri Department of Revenue.