The U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution of a Missouri man convicted of beating three people to death with a claw hammer while a lower court considers an appeal, reports the Associated Press. Ernest Lee Johnson argues that an execution drug could cause painful seizures because he still has part of a benign tumor in his brain, and surgery to remove the rest of the tumor in 2008 forced removal of up to 20 percent of his brain tissue. Johnson, 55, had been scheduled to die yesterday. A second appeal, to the Missouri Supreme Court, says Johnson’s life should be spared because he is mentally disabled. The Missouri Attorney General says both claims are without merit. Johnson was convicted of the three killings during the robbery of a general store in Columbia, Mo., in 1994.
Johnson grew up in a troubled home and his attorney, Jeremy Weis, said his IQ was measured at 63 while he was in elementary school. Testing after his conviction measured the IQ at 67, a level considered mentally disabled. He was on death row in 2001 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally disabled was unconstitutionally cruel. Missouri’s execution drug is a form of pentobarbital believed to be manufactured by a compounding pharmacy; the state won’t say where it gets it. Johnson “faces a significant medical risk for a serious seizure as the direct result of the combination of the Missouri lethal injection protocol and [his] permanent and disabling neurologic disease,” a physician said.