Saturday, May 04, 2002

May 3, 2002


LAST MEAL: Fried shrimp, fried oysters, french fries, chocolate cake and iced tea.

Trooper's murderer executed

THE SKINNY: Richard Charles Johnson was put to death Friday evening for killing a state trooper in 1985 despite a confession from one of Johnson's former co-defendants. Johnson's appeal to the state Supreme Court was rejected Monday, and Gov. Jim Hodges denied a request for clemency on Thursday. Then Friday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down three appeals from Johnson's lawyers. Johnson died by lethal injection at 6:18 p.m. Friday, a prison official said.

A hitchhiker Johnson had picked up along the highway, Connie Sue Hess, originally testified that Johnson killed the officer. But years later, while being treated at a mental facility in Nebraska, Hess said she killed Smalls. A jury never heard the claim, though, and that was the crux of most of Johnson's appeals and the rallying cry of those who lobbied against his execution.

LAST WORDS: "It is hard to explain how frustrating it is to be here year after year when you have no memory of what happened and not to be able to defend yourself," Johnson said in his final statement, read by his lawyer John Blume. "It is also hard to understand a system that would allow two people charged with a crime to go free and take another man's life."

Before he died Friday, Johnson, strapped to a gurney, mouthed a conversation with his brother John, who was in the front row of the viewing area. Although they were separated by glass and metal bars, Johnson told his brother, "I love you" and "I'll see you later." Johnson touched his chest over his heart, and his brother responded by touching his own chest.

Nine witnesses watched Johnson's seemingly lifeless body for 14 more minutes before a doctor pronounced him dead with a nod.

FACTOIDS: Defense attorneys managed to stop Johnson's October 1999 execution a day before it was supposed to happen when they produced Hess' sworn statement saying she killed Smalls. The state Supreme Court assigned a judge to decide whether Hess' confession was credible. He ruled Hess had told so many different stories about what happened that day that her testimony could not be believed.

Johnson was the 26th man executed since South Carolina resumed capital punishment in 1974. No state has sent that many men to death without a single offer of clemency.

After Hodges' decided not to grant Johnson clemency, Blume blasted the Democrat for putting his re-election campaign before justice. "We can only believe that clemency was denied out of fear that the governor's political opponents might use the commutation against him," Blume said in a written statement. Already this campaign season, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate has been attacked by his Republican opponent for opposing capital punishment.

"Ricky Johnson is to be sacrificed at the altar of election-year politics," Blume said.