Man Faces Execution for Killing Wife Decades Ago in Memphis

NASHVILLE—A man convicted of killing his wife decades ago at a camping center he managed in Memphis is set for execution Thursday evening in Tennessee.

Sixty-eight-year-old inmate Don Johnson is scheduled to receive a lethal injection for his conviction in the 1984 suffocation death of his wife, Connie Johnson. He initially blamed the slaying on a work-release inmate who confessed to helping dispose of the body and who was granted immunity for testifying against Johnson.

Barring last-minute intervention, Johnson would become the fourth person executed in Tennessee since August. The last two inmates executed in Tennessee chose the electric chair, saying they believed it offered a quicker and less painful death than the state’s default method of lethal injection.

Johnson has spent half his life on death row and seen three execution dates come and go as his various appeals have played out in court, including challenges to Tennessee’s various lethal injection protocols. The state’s present default method is a three-drug combination that includes the sedative midazolam, which inmates have claimed causes a prolonged and excruciating death. Legal challenges to that lethal injection have appeared to stall, at least temporarily, and three more executions are scheduled this year in Tennessee after Johnson’s.

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that he would not intervene, following “prayerful and deliberate consideration” of Johnson’s clemency request.

Religious leaders, including the president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church of which Johnson is a member, had asked Lee to spare Johnson’s life. Supporters of clemency said Johnson had undergone a religious conversion and cited his Christian ministry to fellow inmates. Johnson is an ordained elder of the church in Nashville.

Connie Johnson’s daughter, Cynthia Vaughn, has said she’s forgiven Johnson and joined in the request for clemency. Other relatives had sent a letter to the governor asking that the execution move forward. “I ask you to please bring justice to our family after 35 years of exhausted heartache, sorrow, and emptiness,” wrote the victim’s sister, Margaret Davis.

Johnson’s attorneys have said he did not intend to file any last-minute legal challenges.

On Wednesday, the inmate’s attorneys made public a statement from Johnson to his son, stepdaughter and other members of Connie Johnson’s family in which he begged for their forgiveness. “I am truly sorry and if I knew something that I could do to ease your pain I would gladly do it,” Johnson wrote.

Alabama also was set to administer a lethal injection Thursday evening to 41-year-old Michael Brandon Samra. He and a friend, Mark Duke, were convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Duke’s father, the father’s girlfriend and the woman’s two elementary-age daughters in 1997 after a dispute over use of a pickup truck.

Duke’s sentence was subsequently overturned because he was 16 at the time of the killings and the Supreme Court later banned executing inmates younger than 18 at the time of their crimes. The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to consider extending its ban on executing juvenile offenders to people as old as 20 when they committed their crimes, denying a stay to Samra. He was 19 at the time of the quadruple murder.

Special Last Meal Request

The Tennessee Department of Correction was cited by the Tennessean as saying that instead of opting for a special last meal, Johnson would instead select from the same menu given to other prisoners of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

Inmates in Tennessee have up to $20 to spend on a special last meal.

Public Defender Kelley Henry told the publication in a written statement that Johnson’s decision to forego the special meal was inspired by his friend, executed inmate Philip Workman, who similarly requested that his last meal be given to a homeless person.

“Mr. Johnson realizes that his $20 allotment will not feed many homeless people,” Henry told the news outlet. “His request is that those who have supported him provide a meal to a homeless person.”

Workman’s request to have vegetarian pizza delivered to a homeless shelter was not honored by the state, though his supporters later carried out his final wish.

By Travis Loller

Epoch Times reporter Tom Ozimek contributed to this article.