Inmate Sings Hymns Until Execution Drugs Kick In

Don Johnson spent 34 years on death row
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 17, 2019 3:00 AM CDT
Tennessee Executes Man After 34 Years on Death Row
People pray during a vigil for Donnie Johnson at Riverside Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Thursday, May 16, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.   (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

A man convicted of killing his wife decades ago at a camping center he managed in Memphis prayed and sang hymns as he was put to death Thursday in Tennessee. Don Johnson, 68, was executed via lethal injection inside a maximum-security Nashville prison for the 1984 suffocation of his wife, Connie Johnson. His last words were a long prayer that in some places echoed the words of Jesus as he was crucified, the AP reports. He asked for forgiveness for those participating in the execution, saying "they know not what they do." Johnson, who killed his wife by stuffing a trash bag down her throat, also prayed for "all those I have hurt" and thanked God for God's blessings, including his attorneys and loved ones.

After the lethal injection drugs began flowing, Johnson asked if he could sing. Given permission by the warden, he sang "They'll Know We Are Christians" and then "Soon and Very Soon." His voice trailed off in the middle of the second song after the words, "no more dying there." He then began making noises that some witnesses interpreted as snores and others said were more like gurgling and gasping. They lasted about three minutes. After the execution, one of his attorneys, Kelley Henry, said she believes the noises were an indication that he could feel pain. After the execution, a Department of Correction spokeswoman read a statement from Connie Johnson's sister, Margaret Davis. "Connie's death was inhumane and indescribable," she said, and Don Johnson was rightly sentenced to die. But the 34 years he spent on death row are an indication that the criminal justice system "needs to be reevaluated." (Johnson rejected a last meal and asked supporters to buy a meal for a homeless person.)

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