A Missouri man convicted of ambushing and killing a St. Louis area police officer he blamed in the death of his younger brother was executed Tuesday night.
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 nationally. Two more executions are scheduled in Missouri for the first few weeks of 2023.
Johnson’s attorneys didn’t deny that he killed Officer William McEntee in 2005, but contended he was sentenced to death in part because he is Black. But courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, and Republican Gov. 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 advisor, the Rev. Darryl Gray, sat at his side. The men spoke softly until the drug was administered. Gray read from the Bible as Johnson shut his eyes. Within seconds, all movement ceased. Gray, 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,” Gray said. “He apologized again. He apologized to the victim’s family. He apologized to his family. He said he was looking forward to seeing his baby brother. And he said he was ready.”
McEntee, 43, was a 20-year veteran of the police department in Kirkwood, a St. Louis suburb. A 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 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 McEntee kept his mother from entering the house to aid his brother, who died a short time later at a hospital.
That evening, McEntee returned to the neighborhood to check on unrelated reports of fireworks being shot off. A court filing from the Missouri attorney general’s office said McEntee 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 struck but survived. Johnson then got into the car and took 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 McEntee alive, on his knees near the patrol car. Johnson shot McEntee in the back and in the head, killing him.
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 — 19 — 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 alleged racial bias. In October, St. Louis Circuit Judge Mary Elizabeth Ott appointed a special prosecutor to review the case. The special prosecutor, E.E. Keenan, filed a motion earlier this month to vacate the death sentence, stating that race played a “decisive factor” in the death sentence.
Ott declined to halt the execution, and appeals to the Missouri Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court were turned aside.
Keenan’s court filing said former St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s office handled five cases involving the deaths of police officers during his 28 years in office. McCulloch sought the death penalty in the four cases involving Black defendants, but did not seek death in the one case where the defendant was white, the file said.
McCulloch, whose father was a police officer killed in the line of duty, witnessed the execution.
“It's been long delayed, but justice has been served,” McCulloch said.
Johnson’s 19-year-old daughter, Khorry Ramey, had sought to witness the execution, but a state law prohibits anyone under 21 from observing the process. Courts declined to step in on Ramey’s behalf. Ramey was able to meet with her father hours before the execution, said Karen Pojmann, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Corrections.
The U.S. 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 Jan. 3, and convicted killer Leonard Taylor’s execution is set for Feb. 7.