Friday, October 21, 2011

R.I.P. Christopher Johnson

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On October 20, 2011, Alabama executed Christopher Johnson, who was convicted of killing his infant son in 2005.  Despite Johnson's substantial history of mental illness, the trial judge granted his request to represent himself, and removed his attorneys, who were pursuing a not guilty by reason of insanity defense.

Christopher Johnson, as detailed by Equal Justice Initiative, had been in psychiatric hospitals throughout his childhood, had been prescribed anti-psychotic medications, and while awaiting trial refused to bathe, slammed his head against the wall of his cell, and attempted suicide by eating toilet paper.  Johnson was nevertheless permitted to act as his own lawyer and ask for the death penalty.  The judge and jury obliged.

Johnson was also allowed to represent himself on appeal.  His conviction and sentence were upheld by the state appellate court, and Johnson then waived the remainder of his appeals despite serious doubts about his competency to do so.  Alabama refused to appoint an attorney to represent Johnson in state or federal post-conviction proceedings, and as a result, Johnson was executed without any meaningful review of his case.

This is the 38th execution in the United States in 2011, the sixth in Alabama, which has the highest execution rate per capita in the country.


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