Tennessee to execute man convicted for wife's murder three decades ago

By Brendan O'Brien
Death row inmate Donnie Johnson, scheduled to be executed May 16, 2019, is shown in this January 2, 2019 photo. Tennessee Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

By Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) - A 68-year-old man who was convicted three decades ago of suffocating his wife with a large plastic garbage bag, a crime he blamed on an inmate on work release, is scheduled to be executed on Thursday in Tennessee.

Donnie Johnson is set to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m. (0000 GMT) at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.

Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in November 1985 for killing his wife, Connie, on Dec. 8, 1984, after she went to see him at a Memphis camping supply store where he worked.

Johnson's co-worker Ronnie McCoy, an inmate on work release, testified that he left the couple alone in an office for about 15 minutes. When he returned, he found Connie suffocated, according to his court testimony.

McCoy testified that he and Johnson then put her body in her vehicle and drove it to a nearby shopping center where they left it.

Authorities said Johnson asked a store manager the next morning to help him find his wife, who he said had gone missing. During their search, they found her dead in her van with a large garbage bag in her mouth, according to court documents.

During the investigation, Johnson told police that he had given his wife about $450 that day for Christmas shopping and that McCoy had tried to rob his wife and killed her in the process, according to the court documents.

Johnson did not testify during his trial. During his sentencing hearing, he took the stand where he denied killing his wife, placing blame on McCoy, the court documents said.

McCoy was not charged in the case. It is unclear if he was granted immunity for his testimony.

Johnson has filed several unsuccessful appeals including a challenge to the state's lethal injection protocol with other inmates, arguing it caused "excruciating pain." He has no further appeals pending.

Johnson and Michael Samra, a convicted quadruple murderer scheduled to be executed in Alabama on Thursday, would be the sixth and seventh inmates executed in the United States in 2019, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization that tracks executions in the United States.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney)