Lawyers for the Tennessee man set to be executed next month in the 1984 murder of his wife have submitted a formal request to Governor Bill Lee asking for the death row inmate to be granted executive clemency and also urging the governor to meet with the daughter of the suspect and victim.
Johnson was convicted of suffocating his wife in Memphis by stuffing a plastic garbage bag in her mouth. He was sentenced to death in 1985.
In a 21-page letter written to Governor Lee on behalf of Don Johnson, his attorneys state “Don has been forgiven by Cynthia Vaughn, the only daughter of Connie Johnson, Don’s wife, the woman whose death Don caused.”
“Cynthia asks for the privilege of meeting you in person, so she can share her experience of Christian forgiveness,” the letter continues. “You alone have the power to commute Don’s sentence of death to a sentence of life. Your decision is absolute. And Cynthia’s plea for mercy is exceptional.”
According to his lawyers, Johnson admits he was “a liar, a cheat, a con man and a murderer” but while in the Shelby County jail awaiting trial, “he heard another inmate give witness about the healing power of Jesus.”
“Don was offered the chance for baptism as an adult on death row” and “he embraced it,” the letter to the governor states.
His attorneys say Johnson is now an ordained Elder in the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
The letter to Governor Lee continues: “we know of only one other case in the history of the State of Tennessee in which the child of the ultimate victim has begged the Governor for mercy for the murderer — and in that case clemency was granted.”
Johnson was one of six inmates whose previous execution dates were stayed due to pending litigation.
His execution is set for May 16 at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.