"No more dying there," Death row inmate sang hymns before execution
A man convicted of killing his wife decades ago at a camping center he managed in Memphis was executed Thursday evening in Tennessee.
Sixty-eight-year-old inmate Don Johnson received a lethal injection for his conviction in the 1984 suffocation death of his wife, Connie Johnson. He initially blamed the slaying on a work-release inmate who confessed to helping dispose of the body and who was granted immunity for testifying against Johnson. TDOC said his time of death was 7:37 p.m. on May 16, 2019.
Before media witnesses spoke, a TDOC spokesperson released a statement from a family member of Johnson's victim, his wife.
"Connie’s Johnson’s death had a great impact on all of our lives. We thank the Lord for each day we were able to spend with her, before her life was tragically taken. Donnie Johnson was rightfully sentenced for committing such an unspeakable crime," said Margaret Davis, the sister of Johnson's wife, Connie.
"However, the appeals process extended his death sentence for thirty-four consecutive years. This is a great indication as to why our criminal justice system needs to be reevaluated. Connie’s death was inhumane and indescribable. Connie’s life was never given a 34-year extension. Instead, she was brutally murdered," the statement said.
"Our family has endured this pain, and has carried this burden for most of our lives. Regardless, what we do or say, it will never be enough to bring Connie back. Three decades ago we sought justice. Today, we seek closure. I want to thank Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Correction.”
A media witness with the Associated Press said Johnson prayed for forgiveness when asked for his last words. Johnson also sang hymns, and the media witness said the last words from him were, "no more dying there," a verse from one of the hymns.
Another media witness said he sang for over two minutes.
Johnson became the fourth person executed in Tennessee since August. The last two inmates executed in Tennessee chose the electric chair, saying they believed it offered a quicker and less painful death than the state’s default method of lethal injection. Media witnesses described hearing sounds, perhaps snoring or rasping, from Johnson before dying.
Johnson's public defender said, "The gurgling the barking the gasping... I believe he felt the sensation of being buried alive and liquid fire."
Johnson spent half his life on death row and seen three execution dates come and go as his various appeals played out in court, including challenges to Tennessee’s various lethal injection protocols. The state’s present default method is a three-drug combination that includes the sedative midazolam, which inmates have claimed causes a prolonged and excruciating death. Legal challenges to that lethal injection have appeared to stall, at least temporarily, and three more executions are scheduled this year in Tennessee after Johnson’s.