The Ironies of The Law: 19-Year-Old Couldn’t Watch Her Father’s Execution for a Crime He Committed at The Same Age
This case is one of many that opens the door to an important conversation about age limits within the justice system
37-year-old Kevin Johson was executed on November 29th in Missouri for a crime he committed in 2005 when he was 19. His daughter, Khorry Ramey, who is now 19, was denied the right to be with him during his final moments, as State law bars individuals younger than 21 years old to witness an execution. Even after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on her behalf, her plea to be allowed in the room was denied and she was barred from attending, which allowed Johnson to be executed without the presence of his family. It was his last request for them to be in attendance.
Kevin Johnson’s story highlights the inconsistencies that exist regarding the rights of young people in this country, and how a given age (in this case,19) can warrant wildly disparate treatment of an individual depending on seemingly arbitrary circumstances. Johnson had a record by the time he shot and killed a police officer, William McEntee, as Johnson believed him responsible for the death of his younger brother earlier that day. According to case documents, there was little-to-no consideration of Johnson’s age when the death penalty was given, yet somehow Missouri law dictated that a person of the same age (Ramey) was too young to merely witness death.
In her argument, Khorry Ramey talks about the fact that her father was part of her life even while incarcerated since she was 2, and refers to his journey towards rehabilitation and the years of work he put into becoming a good father and a better person. She also talked about the importance of being there for her father not only to aid her grieving process but also to provide comfort to him as they are each other’s closest living relatives; not including her 1-year-old son. In a statement related to the ACLU’s lawsuit she said: “If my father were dying in the hospital, I would sit by his bed holding his hand and praying for him until his death, both as a source of support for him and as a support for me as a necessary part of my grieving process and for my peace of mind.”
The court’s decision to deny Khorry’s request speaks to a considerable blind spot that exists in our judicial system; as it fails to recognize the psychological consequences that cases like Johnson’s can have on the families of individuals who are declared guilty, and ignores how this perpetuates the cycle of trauma and violence that already exists in many communities. The ways the families of defendants are penalized and the ways their pain is often treated as an afterthought is another insidious failure of the justice system, but it is possibly too nuanced and abstract to properly address.
This case is one of many that opens the door to an important conversation about age limits and what they mean for the incarcerated and their families. How is a 19-year-old daughter and mother too young to accompany her father, per both their requests, as he is executed, but another 19-year-old is adult enough to be punished with the death penalty? Many ironies and discrepancies plague our justice system, which continues to affect the population, ultimately highlighting the dire need for change. As always, this must start with our state and local institutions.
Missouri 19-year-old can't watch her father's execution, judge rules, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/missouri-19-year-old-cant-watch-fathers-execution-judge-rules-rcna58747
Man who murdered police officer in 2005 has been executed in Missouri, https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/29/us/kevin-johnson-missouri-supreme-court/index.html
Missouri Executes Kevin Johnson Despite Special Prosecutor’s Call to Vacate Death Sentence, https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/news/missouri-court-greenlights-execution-of-kevin-johnson-despite-special-prosecutors-call-to-vacate-death-sentence
The tragic case of Kevin Johnson, set to be killed by Missouri this month, https://deathpenalty.org/the-tragic-case-of-kevin-johnson-set-to-be-killed-by-missouri-this-month/