Columbia demonstrators join in a rally for Kevin Johnson's clemency and protest of the death penalty

Jeff Stack braves the cold to protest the scheduled execution of Kevin Johnson on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in downtown Columbia, Mo.
Jeff Stack braves the cold to protest the scheduled execution of Kevin Johnson on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in downtown Columbia, Mo.

At the eleventh hour, Columbia joined four other Missouri cities as it aimed to rally for Kevin Johnson's clemency before his 24-hour window of execution.

Jeff Stack, a coordinator with the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, led a group of about a half dozen demonstrators that stood outside the Boone County Courthouse protesting the State of Missouri's scheduled execution of Johnson and the use of the death penalty.

There were other gatherings around the state, and Stack and other gatherers braved dropping temperatures in Columbia to brandish signs in front of the courthouse columns.

"Where there's life, there's hope," Stack said in front of the courthouse Tuesday evening.

Johnson was sentenced to death for the killing of a police officer in 2005. He has sent letters to the Kansas City Star expressing remorse for his actions.

The Missouri Supreme Court upheld Johnson's sentence on Monday with a 5-2 vote after Johnson’s request for a stay after hearing arguments that racial discrimination played a role in his prosecution. The U.S. Supreme court denied Johnson's appeal for a stay of execution.

The state's 24-hour window to carry out Johnson's sentence began at 6 p.m. The sentence was officially carried out at 7:40 p.m. Johnson declined to give a final statement through the Department of Corrections and declined to have a final meal, according to St. Louis Public Radio.

Johnson's execution was the state’s second execution this year and the 17th in the United States. Two more executions are scheduled in the state of Missouri in the first few weeks of 2023.

Stack represents the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which stands as a "group composed of people from many faiths, and no particular faith -- all coming together to support nonviolence and justice."

"We're all complicated people," Stack said. "Every person's not perfect that's why we shouldn't have the death penalty."

Demonstrators protest the execution of Kevin Johnson on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in downtown Columbia, Mo.
Demonstrators protest the execution of Kevin Johnson on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in downtown Columbia, Mo.

Stack pointed out where the pro-death penalty argument doesn't connect for him. Specifically, those politicians that claim to be pro-life are also for the death penalty.

Stack mentioned Missouri Gov. Mike Parson as someone who makes that specific kind of argument.

"He says he's pro-life," Stack said of Parson. "I savor life so much, I respect life so much, that I'm going to kill? That doesn't quite follow with any kind of logic."

Parson said Monday he would not grant clemency to Johnson before the Missouri Supreme Court denied a stay of execution.

"Mr. Johnson has received every protection afforded by the Missouri and United States Constitutions, and Mr. Johnson’s conviction and sentence remain for his horrendous and callous crime. The State of Missouri will carry out Mr. Johnson’s sentence according to the Court's order and deliver justice," Parson said in a written statement. "The violent murder of any citizen, let alone a Missouri law enforcement officer, should be met only with the fullest punishment state law allows. Through Mr. Johnson's own heinous actions, he stole the life of Sergeant McEntee and left a family grieving, a wife widowed, and children fatherless. Clemency will not be granted."

Stack said he had a chance to meet former teachers and others who spoke on Johnson's behalf who were heartbroken at the decision.

Stack said those who live on are the ones that need to speak out against the death penalty. He compared it to a funeral, where the person lying in state can't speak. However, all the mourners and grievers can be louder and bolder to get their message across.

"How can we look our kids in the eyes and say murder is wrong, therefore we're going to kill this guy tonight," Stack said.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Columbia demonstrators rally for Kevin Johnson's clemency and protest the death penalty