Tennessee

Inmate scheduled for execution moved to death watch

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Inmate Don Johnson was moved to death watch Tuesday morning shortly after midnight ahead of his scheduled execution Thursday.  

Death watch is the three-day period before an execution when strict guidelines are implemented to maintain the security and control of the offender and to maintain safe and orderly operations of the prison, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.  

During this period, the offender is placed in a cell adjacent to the execution chamber where he or she is under 24-hour observation by a team of correctional officers. 

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.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a case challenging Tennessee's lethal injection protocol ahead of Johnson's execution. 

The appeal filed by Tennessee death row inmates claimed the drugs cause "excruciating pain."

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.


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