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Missouri executes Kevin Johnson for killing officer in 2005

Johnson’s 19-year-old daughter, Khorry Ramey, had sought to witness the execution, but a federal judge denied the request based on state law prohibiting witnesses younger than 21.
Kevin Johnson at the Clayton Courthouse
Kevin Johnson at the Clayton Courthouse in Clayton, Mo., on April 3, 2007.F. Brian Ferguson / Pool via AP file

A Missouri inmate convicted of ambushing and killing a St. Louis-area police officer he blamed for the death of his younger brother was executed Tuesday, officials said.

Kevin Johnson, 37, was put to death by lethal injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre. The execution began at 7:29 p.m., and Johnson was pronounced dead at 7:40 p.m., said Karen Pojmann, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Johnson did not give a final statement, she said. He declined a final meal.

In this photo released Tuesday, July 5, 2005, by the Kirkwood Police Department Sgt. William McEntee, 43, is seen. McEntee was shot and killed while checking a fireworks disturbance in suburban St. Louis, and a search continued Wednesday for a man seen approaching the officer and firing several shots. Kirkwood Police Chief Jack Plummer said officers from several nearby departments and the Missouri State Highway Patrol joined Kirkwood police in searching for the suspect, who Plummer said frequented the neighborhood where the shooting took place. (AP Photo/Kirkwood Police Department via St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Kirkwood Police Sgt. William McEntee.Kirkwood Police Department/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

Johnson had admitted to shooting and killing Kirkwood Police Sgt. William McEntee in 2005. Johnson was 19 at the time.

Edward Keenan, a court-appointed special prosecutor, had sought to vacate his death sentence. Keenan argued in an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court that Johnson's trial was "infected" with racist prosecution techniques and that racial discrimination played a part in his receiving the death penalty.

One of Johnson’s attorneys, Shawn Nolan, said, “Make no mistake about it, Missouri capitally prosecuted, sentenced to death, and killed Kevin because he is Black.”

Johnson was executed after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for a stay Tuesday evening. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson would have granted it, court records show.

Missouri’s highest court denied a stay of execution late Monday. Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican and a former county sheriff, said he would not spare Johnson.

In a statement read by the Corrections Department director after the execution Tuesday, Parson said Johnson's claims were reviewed by state and federal courts "and no court reversed his conviction or sentence."

"We hope that this will bring some closure to Sgt. McEntee’s loved ones, who continue to anguish without him," he said.

Mary McEntee, the slain officer’s widow, said Tuesday that her husband was executed on July 5, 2005, when he was “ambushed and shot five times in his police car.” He was then shot twice more, she said.

“During this process, many have forgot Bill was the victim,” Mary McEntee said Tuesday night. “We miss Bill every day of our lives.”

On July 5, 2005, police were searching for Johnson, who was on probation for assaulting his girlfriend. Police believed he had violated probation. McEntee was among the officers sent to Johnson's home.

Johnson's 12-year-old brother, who had a congenital heart defect, ran next door to his grandmother's house, where he suffered a seizure. He died at the hospital. Johnson testified at trial that McEntee kept his mother from entering the house to aid his brother. According to Johnson, that same evening he encountered McEntee when he returned to his neighborhood for an unrelated call about a fireworks disturbance. Johnson shot McEntee several times and fled, according to prosecutors. He turned himself in three days later.

Khorry Ramey with her father, Kevin Johnson, and her son, Kiaus.
Khorry Ramey with her father, Kevin Johnson, and her son, Kiaus.via ACLU

Keenan, the special prosecutor, told the state Supreme Court that former St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch's office handled five cases in which defendants were charged with killing police officers during his tenure. McCulloch sought the death penalty against all four Black defendants but did not seek death in the one case in which the defendant was white, the filing said.

"The trial prosecuting attorney invited only the white defendant to submit mitigating circumstances for consideration before the prosecutor decided whether to seek the death penalty and, thereafter, the prosecutor did not seek the death penalty against the white defendant," Keenan said, according to a separate court filing. "No similar invitations to submit mitigating evidence were extended to any of the four black defendants."

The motion for a stay argues that there are no “legitimate case characteristics that can plausibly explain the disparate treatment.”

Keenan also said in a filing that in statements he made to other prosecutors, McCulloch showed "a particular animosity towards young Black males like Mr. Johnson, viewing them as a population that 'we had to deal with,' and portraying them as stereotypical criminals."

McCulloch could not immediately be reached for comment.

Johnson's daughter, Khorry Ramey, 19, had sought to witness the execution, but a state law prohibits anyone younger than 21 from observing the process. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last week asking a federal court to allow her to attend her father's execution, but a judge ruled Friday that a state law barring her from being present because of her age was constitutional.

Ramey did visit with Johnson on Tuesday morning, said Pojmann, the Corrections Department spokesperson. Four witnesses for Johnson were present at the execution, she said.

McEntee had three children, ages 7, 10 and 13, when he was killed, his widow said Tuesday night after the execution.

“They didn’t have a chance to say goodbye,” Mary McEntee said. “It took 17 years of grieving and pushing forward to get to this point today. This is something I hope no other family has to go through.”