Missouri, 19, can’t attend father’s execution, judge says

A 19-year-old woman from Missouri can’t be a witness to his father’s execution after a judge ruled on Friday that a state law barring her from attendance because of her age was constitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a court case this week on behalf of Khorry Ramey asking a federal court to allow him to witness his father’s scheduled execution on Tuesday.

Kevin Johnson, 37, has been in jail since Ramey was 2 years old for the 2005 murder of William McEntee, a Kirkwood, Missouri police officer.

“I am heartbroken that I cannot be with my father in his final moments,” Ramey said in a statement, adding that he “worked very hard to readjust in prison. I pray that [Gov. Mike] Parson will grant clemency to my father.”

Johnson was 19 at the time of the crime – a parallel that is not lost on his supporters.

“It’s ironic that Kevin was 19 when he committed this crime and they still want to go ahead with this execution, but they won’t allow his daughter who is 19 at the time because she’s too young,” Johnsons attorney Shawn said. Nolan told reporters on Friday.

Johnson had requested that his daughter be a witness to his death, along with a spiritual advisor, an older brother and the principal of his elementary school, said Michelle Smith, co-director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

But Missouri Law says no one under the age of 21 can witness an execution. In its emergency filing, the ACLU argued that the law violated Ramey’s constitutional rights by “singling out adults under the age of 21 … without any rational connection to a legitimate governmental or penological interest.”

U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes said in a written ruling that Ramey had failed to demonstrate “unconstitutionality” and that it remained “in the public interest to allow states to enforce their laws and administer state prisons without interference from the courts”.

At a press conference ahead of the judge’s ruling, Ramey said in a statement that she wanted to witness the execution as part of the grieving process and for “peace of mind.”

“I am my father’s closest living relative and he is mine, apart from my grandson,” Ramey said. “If my father died in hospital, I would stay by his side and hold his hand, praying until he died.”

Despite her father’s incarceration, they remained close, Ramey said. She called him weekly, visited him in prison, and credits him for pushing her to continue her education. She now works as a nursing assistant and in September gave birth to her first child, Kiaus. She said she recently went to Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri and asked Kiaus to meet her father.

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

“It was a beautiful but bittersweet moment for me because I realized that this might be the only time my dad could hold on. [his] grandson,” Ramey said.

Corene Kendrick, Ramey’s attorney and deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said the circumstances of a person’s age prohibiting their ability to witness an execution is an issue that rarely arises. Besides Missouri, only Nevada has an age limit of 21, she added, while the federal government and all other states have no age limit or requirement of at least 18. .

Kendrick said denying Ramey the chance to see her dad’s final moments is “gratuitous punishment” after she also lost her mother when she was 4. Ramey witnessed the murder of her mother, who was shot by an ex-boyfriend, Kendrick said. .

“It’s a unique circumstance,” she added. “It’s something that none of us and the people who deal with death penalty litigation on a daily basis have encountered before.”

The Missouri attorney general’s office had argued in a court filing that the state’s current law is “rational” because it “prevents teenagers from witnessing death,” while “preserving the solemnity of death.” execution” and “ensuring that witnesses can give reliable accounts”. execution.”

Prosecutors did not immediately comment on the judge’s decision.

McEntee, a husband and father of three, was among officers sent to Johnson’s home to serve a warrant for his arrest in July 2005. Johnson was on probation for assaulting his girlfriend and police believed he had raped probation.

Johnson saw officers arrive and woke up his 12-year-old brother, Joseph “Bam Bam” Long, who ran past their grandmother’s house. Once there, the boy, who suffered from a congenital heart defect, collapsed and began having a seizure.

Johnson testified at trial that McEntee prevented his mother from entering the house to help his brother, who died shortly afterwards in a hospital.

Later that evening, McEntee returned to the neighborhood to verify unrelated reports of fireworks being set off. It was then that he met Johnson.

Johnson pulled out a gun and shot the officer. He then approached the wounded officer, kneeling, and shot him, killing him, prosecutors said.

Johnson’s fate remains uncertain after a motion to halt his execution was filed by a special prosecutor, Edward Keenan. In the filing, Keenan says there is evidence that “unconstitutional racial discrimination” played a role in Johnson’s 2007 trial.

A hearing is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office, however, believes Johnson’s execution should continue and that “the surviving victims of Johnson’s crimes have waited long enough for justice to be served.”

If Johnson is put to death on Tuesday, it would be the fifth state execution this month in the busiest month yet for capital punishment in the United States in 2022.

A recent decision by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to suspend executions in its state after a unprecedented third failed lethal injection prevents this month from being the busiest in executions in the whole country for several years.

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