Johnson Again Gets Death Penalty
"He needs to be punished for his wrongdoing," said one victim's relative. "And he should not take mentally retarded people down with him and hide behind the mask of mental retardation and say that he himself is mentally retarded whenever he is cold and calculated and brutal."
A Pettis County jury began deliberating about 4:30 p.m.Thursday, after hearing four days of testimony in the penalty phase of Ernest Lee Johnson's trial.
It didn't take long for them to decide on his punishment, returning to the Boone County Courthouse just two and a half hours later.
Johnson showed little reaction to his latest death sentence, although victims' families cried and hugged each other. Relatives seemed relieved that the 12-year-old case finally appeared to be over.
Earlier, jurors heard an expert witness describe Johnson's low IQ. The defense also said Johnson had a difficult childhood, but the prosecution said that was no excuse to kill three people.
A Boone County jury convicted Johnson in 1995 of beating to death three employees at Casey's General Store in Columbia. That jury, and later a Clay County jury, recommended the death penalty.
But, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned both death sentences because of questions about Johnson's illegal drug use and his mental capacity.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 states could not execute mentally-retarded defendants.
Missouri's death sentence includes an automatic right to appeal, so Johnson's lawyers have until June 12 to ask for another trial.