The Supreme Court rejects Ernest Johnson’s plea for the death penalty

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WASHINGTON – On the disagreements of its three Liberal members, the Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal by a death row inmate in Missouri who said the way the state wanted to execute him was causing him excruciating pain. Inmate Ernest Johnson had asked to be killed by a firing squad instead.

As is the court’s custom, there was no reason to refuse to hear the case. Mr Johnson was convicted of the murder of three people during a gas station robbery in 1994. He later learned that he had a brain tumor and had an operation to treat it. He had a seizure disorder.

Mr Johnson sued to challenge Missouri’s execution protocol, which uses a lethal injection of pentobarbital, saying it would very likely result in him having intense and painful seizures. As required by the Supreme Court’s precedent, he proposed alternative methods of execution, starting with nitrogen gas, a method contemplated by state law but never used.

In another Missouri case in 2019, Bucklew v. PrecytheThe Supreme Court ruled that nitrogen gas was not a viable alternative because, as Judge Neil M. Gorsuch wrote to the majority, “it was an entirely new method – one that had never been used to conduct an execution and had no record of successful use. “

But Justice Gorsuch wrote that other alternatives would remain available. “An inmate seeking an alternate method of execution is not limited to choosing from those currently permitted under state law,” he wrote.

In a concurring statement, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh said a firing squad might be such an alternative, noting that a state attorney had specifically addressed the possibility of when The case was argued in 2018.

After the case was settled in 2019, Mr Johnson attempted to amend his lawsuit to ask for a firing squad. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis, declined the requestand said it was too late.

Contrary to the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Mr Johnson’s appeal, Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the Court of Appeal’s lawsuit was unfair and inappropriate.

“Think about what the Eighth Circuit did to make things go faster,” she wrote. “Johnson has made a plausible argument that if he is executed with pentobarbital, he will experience pain similar to torture. These factual assertions must be recognized as true at this stage of the litigation. “

“Despite the risk of severe pain resulting in gruesome and unusual punishments,” she continued, “the Eighth Circle has ensured that no court will ever review the evidence in support of Johnson’s allegation of the Eighth Amendment.”

Justice Sotomayor wrote, citing her opposition in the 2019 decision . That’s what caused the Eighth Circuit’s decision. Because this court chooses to remain inactive, I respectfully disagree. “

Judges Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined Judge Sotomayor’s objection in the Johnson v Precythe case, nos. 20-287. In a second dissent, Judge Breyer, who has called for the constitutionality review of the death penalty, said the new case provides further evidence of how problematic the death penalty has become.

“I just add,” wrote Judge Breyer, “that the difficulty in resolving this claim 27 years after the murders is another example of the particular difficulty the current death penalty poses for the fair application of the law. ” . ”

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