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Supreme Court denies death row inmate’s claim of delusions

Scott Lauck//June 9, 2023

Supreme Court denies death row inmate’s claim of delusions

Scott Lauck//June 9, 2023

The Missouri Supreme Court has declined to halt the scheduled execution of Johnny Johnson after finding that he is not so mentally ill that he cannot be put to death.

Johnson is set to be executed on Aug. 1 for the rape and murder of 6-year-old girl Cassandra Williamson in St. Louis County in 2002. In a habeas petition filed in May, an expert for Johnson alleged that he is delusional and that killing him would violate the Eighth Amendment’s bar on cruel and unusual punishment.

According to the opinion, Johnson, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 16, believes that Satan is using the state’s execution to bring about the end of the world, that he has heard the devil’s voice in his head and that he may be able to go on living after his execution either as a vampire or by entering an animal’s mind. Those beliefs, his expert wrote, “show that he does not have a rational understanding of the finality of his punishment.”

In an 6-1 ruling on June 8, the Supreme Court disagreed. Judge Mary R. Russell, writing for the majority, said the court had rejected Johnson’s claims of mental illness in his direct appeal on 2006, so they couldn’t be brought again.

Russell also wrote that Johnson hadn’t demonstrated the “substantial threshold showing of insanity” required by U.S. Supreme Court precedent, noting that Johnson’s prison medical records indicate his delusions are being controlled by medication.

“This Court finds Johnson’s evidence lacks credibility, particularly when viewed in light of the State’s evidence, to demonstrate a substantial threshold showing of insanity,” Russell wrote.

Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson and Judges W. Brent Powell, Patricia Breckenridge, Zel M. Fischer and Robin Ransom concurred. Judge George W. Draper III dissented, but he didn’t write separately to explain his reasoning.

The unscheduled opinion was issued two days after the state put Michael Andrew Tisius to death by lethal injection for the murder of two jailers during a botched jail break. It marked Missouri’s third execution of the year.

The case is State ex rel. Johnson v. Vandergriff, SC100077.

RELATED: Supreme Court sets execution date for man who killed 6-year-old

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