Two hours before Kevin Johnson’s scheduled execution time, about 30 people gathered in Kansas City to voice opposition to the death penalty.
The crowd dispersed to the four corners of the busy intersection at 39th and Troost where several cars passing by honked in support.
Julian Garcia is a senior at Rockhurst High School and the president of the student diversity union.
“I believe that all life has an inherent human dignity,” he said. “Violence begets violence.”
A couple years ago, his cousin became a victim of homicide in Kansas City.
“I would never wish that their murderers would be murdered because it won’t bring them back.”
Several people held signs reading “Thou shalt not kill,” “Execute justice not people,” and “Make Missouri execution free.”
This was the first protest Laurie Jackson-Prater ever attended.
“I turned 60 this year and I realized silence is complacent and then I just decided I am not going to be quiet anymore when I see wrong,” she said.
Jackson-Prater said she believes the death penalty in Johnson’s case is unjust for the crime and that racial bias played a part in his case.
In addition to Kansas City, Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty organized gatherings in Jefferson City, St. Louis, Columbia and Bonne Terre, where executions are carried out at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center.
Ashley Carlson said the death penalty is inhumane.
“It’s also not an effective deterrent for crime, it’s not an effective use of resources,” she said. “It’s far too permanent a tool for a broken justice system. Kevin Johnson is an excellent example of that.”
She pointed to the way former St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch sought the death sentence in Johnson’s case, but did not in a similar case involving a white defendant.
Johnson was 19 years old when he fatally shot Sgt. William McEntee, a police officer with the Kirkwood Police Department.
Johnson’s guilt was never in question, but advocates for the 37-year-old have said the death penalty is inappropriate in his case.
In a letter dated Nov. 22, U.S. Reps. Emanuel Cleaver and Cori Bush asked Gov. Mike Parson to halt the execution. They called Johnson’s death sentence “egregious,” given evidence of racial bias during the trial and his history of mental illness.
“As ordained ministers, we believe in accountability but also the sanctity of life, and do not think these tenets are mutually exclusive,” they wrote.
According to Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, this is the first case a prosecutor has intervened to stop an execution in the state.
On Monday, special prosecutor E.E. Keenan argued before the Missouri Supreme Court that Johnson’s trial was infected by racial bias by McCulloch.
Keenan told the justices that McCulloch — whose father was killed in the line of duty — sought the death penalty in four out of five cases involving a police officer death during his career. All four of those defendants were Black. The fifth was white and Keenan alleged that defendant’s conduct “was more aggravated.”
In court documents, Keenan also said McCulloch intentionally eliminated Black jurors during Johnson’s second trial.
Andrew Crane, with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, said the arguments laid out by Keenan would fail during future hearings, and that the jurors were qualified and unbiased.
“The McEntee family has waited long enough for justice,” the AG’s office said in a court filing.
In a response, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office said Johnson’s request “is a transparent refusal to accept moral responsibility for his crimes,” and refuted claims of racism as “completely baseless.”
Parson said Monday that he would not grant clemency.
“The State of Missouri will carry out Mr. Johnson’s sentence according to the Court’s order and deliver justice,” the governor said in a news release.