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Missouri man executed for killing police officer in 2005

Kevin Johnson (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP)
Kevin Johnson (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP)

A Missouri man convicted of ambushing and killing a police officer he blamed over the death of his younger brother has been executed.

Kevin Johnson, 37, died after an injection of pentobarbital at the state prison in Bonne Terre.

It was the state’s second execution this year and the 17th in America overall. Two more executions are scheduled in Missouri for the first few weeks of 2023.

Johnson’s lawyers did not deny that he killed St Louis area officer William McEntee in 2005, but contended he was sentenced to death in part because he is black.

However the courts, including the US supreme court and Republican governor Mike Parson declined to stop the execution.

Johnson declined to make a final statement before the lethal drug was administered.

In a first for modern executions in Missouri, Johnson was not in the execution room alone. His spiritual adviser, the Rev Darryl Gray, sat at his side. The men spoke softly until the drug was administered.

Mr Gray read from the Bible as Johnson shut his eyes. Within seconds, all movement ceased.

The spiritual adviser, a leading St Louis racial injustice activist, continued reading from the Bible or praying while patting Johnson’s shoulder.

“We read scripture and had a word of prayer,” Mr Gray said afterwards. “He apologised again. He apologised to the victim’s family. He apologised to his family. He said he was looking forward to seeing his baby brother. And he said he was ready.”

Officer McEntee was a 20-year veteran of the police department in Kirkwood, a St Louis suburb.

A 43-year-old husband and father of three, he was among the officers sent to Johnson’s home on July 5, 2005, to serve a warrant for his arrest. Johnson was on probation for assaulting his girlfriend, and police believed he had violated probation.

Johnson, who was aged 19 at the time, saw officers arrive and awoke his 12-year-old brother, Joseph “Bam Bam” Long, who ran to a house next door.

Once there, the boy, who suffered from a congenital heart defect, collapsed and began having a seizure.

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

That evening, Officer McEntee returned to the area to check on unrelated reports of fireworks being set off. A court filing from the Missouri attorney general’s office said the policeman was in his car questioning three children when Johnson shot him through the open passenger-side window, striking the officer’s leg, head and torso. A teenager was also struck, but survived.

Johnson then got into the car and took Officer McEntee’s gun.

The court filing said Johnson walked down the street and told his mother that McEntee “let my brother die” and “needs to see what it feels like to die”.

Though she told him: “That’s not true,” Johnson returned to the shooting scene and found Officer McEntee alive, on his knees near the patrol car.

Johnson shot him in the back and in the head, killing him.

Officer McEntee’s wife, Mary McEntee, read a statement after Tuesday’s execution that said Johnson acted as “judge, juror and executioner” in killing her husband.

“Bill was killed on his hands and knees in front of strangers, the people he dedicated his life to,” Mary McEntee said.

Johnson’s lawyers previously asked the courts to intervene for other reasons, including a history of mental illness and his age at the time of the crime.

Courts have increasingly moved away from sentencing teen offenders to death since the supreme court in 2005 banned the execution of offenders who were younger than 18 at the time of their crime.

But a broader focus of appeals had alleged racial bias.

The US saw 98 executions in 1999 but the number has dropped dramatically in recent years. Missouri already has two scheduled for early 2023.

Convicted killer Scott McLaughlin is scheduled to die on January 3, while convicted killer Leonard Taylor’s execution is set for February 7.