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Court declines to block execution of Missouri man who says his conviction was tainted by racial bias

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to block the execution of Kevin Johnson, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection in Missouri on Nov. 29.

There were no recorded dissents from the court’s brief order.

Johnson was convicted and received the death penalty for the 2005 shooting death of William McEntee, a police officer. Johnson came to the Supreme Court on Nov. 10, asking the justices to put his execution on hold to give the justices time to consider his challenges to the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. At Johnson’s first trial, two white jurors who made racist statements refused to join the rest of the jury in voting to convict Johnson – who is Black – of second-degree murder, which would not have carried the death penalty. Johnson argued that his second trial, at which he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, did not fix the constitutional violation at his first trial.

Johnson also argued that he should not be executed because he was only 19 at the time of the crime and suffered from severe mental illness. The Supreme Court held in Roper v. Simmons that the execution of defendants who were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes violates the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Johnson urged the justices to extend that rule to defendants under the age of 21, contending that (among other things) scientists now believe that the human brain is not fully mature until after 21.

The state countered that Johnson’s first trial was the “‘classic example’ of a properly declared mistrial.” Any problems in that trial, the state contended, were remedied with his second trial. Nothing has happened since Roper, the state continued, to require an expansion of that decision to cover defendants who were under the age of 21 at the time of their crime. And in any event, the state concluded, Johnson waited too long to bring his claims.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court.

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