Death row inmate makes unusual request before his execution

Justin Chan

A man who was executed Thursday turned down the chance to pick his last meal and instead asked his supporters to feed the homeless, his attorney told the Tennessean

Donnie Johnson, 68, declined to spend the $20 death row inmates at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution can use for their last meal and opted to have what the general prison population ate, the Tennessee Department of Correction said.

Johnson's public defender Kelley Henry told the Tennessean that his client was inspired by Philip Workman, a fellow death row inmate who, in 2007, asked that prison staff spend his $20 on vegetarian pizzas for a local homeless shelter. Though prison officials refused to comply with Workman's request, his supporters spent $1,200 altogether on 150 pies for the Nashville Rescue Mission. 

Henry said Johnson, who became an elder in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and led Bible studies while on death row, wanted to follow in Workman's footsteps. 

"Mr. Johnson realizes that his $20 allotment will not feed many homeless people," Henry said in an email. "His request is that those who have supported him provide a meal to a homeless person."

Johnson was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife Connie Johnson in 1984. He allegedly suffocated her by stuffing a 30-gallon trash bag down her throat, the Tennessean reports. 

Though Johnson nor his legal representation denied the crime, they, along with his supporters, asked Gov. Bill Lee to grant him clemency because of the religious work Johnson did behind bars. 

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"He has been leading and serving in such a way that what he's doing in there is the exact kind of ministry that we would definitely ordain someone for out here," Pastor Furman F. Fordham II of the Riverside Chapel in Nashville told the paper earlier this month.

Even one of Connie Johnson's children, Cynthia Vaughn, whom Donnie Johnson later adopted, pleaded the governor to step in.

"Over these past few years, Don has become one of my last connections to my mother, and his execution will not feel like justice to me," Vaughn wrote in an opinion piece

Still, Johnson's execution proceeded. The 68-year-old died by lethal injection and became the fourth person to be executed by Tennessee since the state reinstated execution last August. 

Minutes before prison staff administered the injection, Johnson reportedly said, "I commend my life into your hands. Thy will be done. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen." 

He then sang for two minutes before dying.