Missouri 19-year-old can’t watch his father’s execution, judge rules

A 19-year-old Missouri woman is barred from witnessing her father’s execution after a judge ruled Friday that a state law barring her from being present because of her age is constitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of Khorry Ramey petitioning a federal court to allow her to attend her father’s scheduled execution on Tuesday.

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

«I am heartbroken that I will not be able to be with my father in his last moments,» Ramey said in a statement, adding that «he has worked very hard to rehabilitate himself in prison. I pray that he [Gov. Mike] Parson will give my father clemency.»

Johnson was 19 years old at the time of the crime, a parallel not lost on his followers.

«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 let their daughter, who is 19 at the moment, in because she’s too young,» said Johnson’s attorney, Shawn. Nolan told reporters on Friday.

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

But missouri law says that no person under the age of 21 may witness an execution. In its emergency filing, the ACLU argued that the statute violates Ramey’s constitutional rights by «targeting adults under the age of 21 … without any rational relationship to a legitimate governmental or penological interest.»

US District Judge Brian Wimes said in a written ruling that Ramey did not prove «unconstitutional» and that it remains «in the public interest to allow states to enforce their laws and run state prisons without judicial intervention.»

At a news conference before the judge’s ruling, Ramey said in a statement that he wants to testify about the execution as part of the mourning process and for «peace of mind.»

«I am my father’s closest living relative and he is mine, along with my youngest son,» Ramey said. «If my dad was dying in the hospital, he would stay by his side and hold his hand, praying until he died.»

Despite their father’s imprisonment, they have stuck together, 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 she gave birth to her first child, Kiaus. She said she recently traveled to the Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri and had Kiaus meet her father.

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

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

Corene Kendrick, Ramey’s attorney and deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said circumstances of a person’s age that impede their ability to see an execution is an issue that rarely comes up. Other than Missouri, only Nevada has an age limit of 21, she added, while the federal government and all other states have no age restriction or requirement to be at least 18 years old.

Kendrick said denying Ramey the ability to see her father’s last moments is «gratuitous punishment» after she too lost her mother when she was 4 years old. Ramey witnessed the murder of her mother, who was shot by an ex-boyfriend, Kendrick said. .

«This is a unique circumstance,» he added. «It’s something that none of us and the people who deal with death penalty litigation day in and day out have come across before.»

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office had argued in a court filing that current state law is «rational» because it «prevents adolescents from witnessing death» while «preserving the solemnity of the execution» and «ensuring that witnesses can give reliable versions. of execution».

State prosecutors did not immediately comment on the judge’s ruling.

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

Johnson saw the officers arrive and woke up his 12-year-old brother, Joseph «Bam Bam» Long, who was running next door to his grandmother’s house. While there, the boy, who was suffering from a congenital heart defect, collapsed and began having seizures.

Johnson testified at trial that McEntee prevented her mother from entering the house to help her brother, who died a short time later at a hospital.

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

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

Johnson’s fate remains unclear after a motion was filed calling for his execution to be halted. presented by a special prosecutor, Edward Keenan. In the filing, Keenan says there is evidence that «unconstitutional racial profiling» played a role in Johnson’s 2007 trial.

A hearing is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

However, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office believes that Johnson’s execution should go ahead and that «the surviving victims of Johnson’s crimes have waited long enough for justice.»

If Johnson is executed on Tuesday, it would be the fifth execution by a state 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 pause executions in her state after an unprecedented third botched lethal injection prevents this month from being the busiest for executions across the country in several years.