6 comments May 20th, 2010 Headsman
On this date in 1987, murmuring “I guess nobody is going to call,”* Edward Earl Johnson was gassed for capital murder in Mississippi’s Parchman Farm prison.
Johnson was convicted of raping a white woman and killing the policeman who answered her distress call. These are no-nos for a young person of color in the South.
Johnson fought his execution for eight years on death row, insisting on his innocence even on his last walk to the gas chamber.
And the case against him looks pretty thin — supported, as these things so often are, mostly by a highly suspect confession Johnson miraculously coughed up when he was out on a drive with John Law. (This led the victim, who knew Johnson and had excluded him as the attacker, to decide he did it after all.)
Needless to say, Johnson’s state-appointed public defender was unable to make the most of these gaping lacunae in the state’s case.
This is a musty old case by now that might be long past any hope of definitive exoneration. However, with the growing awareness of false confessions as a contributing factor in wrongful convictions, it’s become a standard on registers of potential wrongful executions — as in this entry from the (admittedly partisan) Wrongful Conviction: International Perspectives on Miscarriages of Justice:
The murder weapon was never connected to Johnson; indeed, no physical evidence linked Johnson to the crime. The case against Johnson is weakened by his claim of inadequate counsel, his immediate recantation of his confession, and his claim that his confession was produced under threat of death. Also, after Johnson’s execution, a young woman came forward claiming to have been with Johnson on the night of the murder, and claiming also that she had come forward during the investigation but was rebuffed by police.
Edward Earl Johnson is the subject of the riveting BBC documentary Fourteen Days in May.
* Quoted in the New York Times, May 21, 1987.
Also on this date
- 2001: An adult actress stoned to death in Evin prison
- 1881: Po'olua, "darkened in my mind"
- 1943: Wilhelm H., pensioner and vandal
- 2001: Zhang Jun and his gang
- 1820: Karl Ludwig Sand, a curious strand of German history