Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case Of Man Requesting To Die By Firing Squad

A man on death row appealed to the courts to change the way the state would execute him; the Supreme Court refused to hear his case. 

In a decision rendered on Monday (May 24), the nation’s highest court declined to take up the case of Ernest Johnson, a Missouri man on death row, who is seeking to die by a firing squad after claiming dying by lethal injection could lead to an unnecessarily painful death for him because of a medical condition. 

According to The Washington Post, the Court’s six conservative justices didn’t give an explanation for the decision not to take up Johnson’s case, but the decision drew backlash from the liberal justices. 

“Missouri is now free to execute Johnson in a manner that, at this stage of the litigation, we must assume will be akin to torture given his unique medical condition,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissent. Sotomayor pointed out the Court’s refusal to take up Johnson's case is going back on the words of Justice Brett Kavanaugh who wrote, "an inmate who contends that a particular method of execution is very likely to cause him severe pain should ordinarily be able to plead some alternative method of execution that would significantly reduce the risk of severe pain."

It takes four justices to take up a case on the Supreme Court.

Johnson was convicted of killing three people during a 1994 robbery and suffers from epilepsy from a brain tumor and subsequent surgeries to remove it. Johnson says that death by lethal injection from the drug pentobarbital would prompt seizures, and violate Constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. 

The state refused a proposal to execute Johnson by nitrogen gas, a decision which was upheld in lower courts. “In other words, he asks that the courts decide between an execution that is ‘cruel’ and one that is ‘unusual,’” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote.

Missouri hasn’t authorized the use of firing squads in executions and requested the Supreme Court shouldn’t hear Johnson’s case, accusing him of making an attempt to delay his execution. 

Breyer also made note that firing squads have been used in a state execution only once since 1913, though South Carolina recently passed legislation to allow people to choose between firing squad and the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. 

Photo: Getty Images

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