As his attorneys pressed claims that he is mentally incompetent, a man who kidnapped a 6-year-old girl and beat her to death at a shuttered glass factory was slated to be killed in Missouri on Tuesday.
In the July 26, 2002, slaying of Casey Williamson, whose disappearance sparked a frenzied search in her hometown of Valley Park, a small suburb of St. Louis, Johnny Johnson, 45, was found guilty.
Johnson’s older sister and Casey’s mother were childhood closest friends, and Casey’s mother even volunteered to watch Johnson. The night before the murder, Johnson went to a BBQ, and Casey’s family invited him to stay the night and sleep on a couch in the house with them.
Johnson enticed the girl to the abandoned factory in the morning, even carrying her on his shoulders as they walked to the run-down location. Casey screamed and struggled to escape when he attempted to sexually abuse her. He allegedly killed her with a brick and a sizable boulder before washing away in the nearby Meramec River, according to court filings. Authorities claim that Johnson admitted to the crimes that very day.
Less than a mile from her home, Casey’s body was discovered in a hole covered in rocks and dirt during a search by volunteers and first responders.
Defence attorneys testified during Johnson’s trial that their client, an ex-convict who had been discharged from a state psychiatric facility six months before, had stopped taking his schizophrenia medication and had been behaving abnormally in the days leading up to the murder.
Johnson has fantasies that the devil will use his death to bring about the end of the world, according to Johnson’s attorneys, who have claimed this in recent appeals. Additionally, they pointed out that he had been put on suicide watch in prison a few years ago after declaring himself to be a vampire.
On the grounds that Johnson’s schizophrenia prohibited him from grasping the connection between his crime and the punishment, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected an appeal in June that sought to stop the execution. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office said that medical documents show Johnson is able to manage his mental condition with medication and that the office was successful in contesting the validity of the psychiatric exam.
The scheduled execution was temporarily stopped last week by a three-judge federal appeals court panel, but it was later reinstated by the entire 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court thereafter received numerous challenges from Johnson’s legal team over his eligibility to be put to death.
On Monday, Missouri Governor Mike Parson rejected a request for Johnson’s sentence to be commuted to life in prison.
“Johnny Johnson’s crime is one of the most horrific murders that has come across my desk,” Parson, a former sheriff, said in a statement.
Casey Williamson’s father, Ernie Williamson, was allegedly against the death penalty, according to the clemency petition filed by Johnson’s lawyers.
However, Della Steele, Casey’s great aunt, begged Parson in a letter full of passion to carry out the execution in order to “send the message that it is not okay to terrorise and murder a child.” In the communication, Steele claimed that other family members’ destructive behaviour was caused by the grief over Casey’s passing.
“He did something horrible. He took a life away from a completely innocent child, and there have to be consequences for that,” Steele told The Associated Press.
To honour Casey, Steele has spearheaded numerous community initiatives. Through years of fundraising, Casey’s family was able to provide all 65 seniors at Valley Park High School in 2014—the year Casey would have graduated—with $500 scholarships or savings bonds.
In Casey’s honour, the family has also sponsored neighbourhood safety fairs, such as one on July 22 that attracted a few hundred attendees. Numerous child identification kits, as well as advice on how to be safe around fire, water, and bicycles, were distributed.
“A lot of kids from Casey’s class were there with their children. It was nice to see, but it definitely makes you think,” Steele said. “They’re pushing their strollers with their couple of kids and you think, `That’s where she should be.’”
The planned execution would be the 16th this year in the United States. There have been five executions in Texas, four in Florida, two in Oklahoma, and one in Alabama, in addition to the three that have already taken place in Missouri. In six American states, there were 18 executions last year.