Death Row inmate’s plea for mercy remains before Gov. Lee


Governor Bill Lee faces a life-or-death decision in the next few weeks as the execution of a condemned Tennessee man who asked for his mercy looms.

Don Johnson received the death penalty in 1984 after he was convicted of suffocating his wife in Memphis. His execution is currently scheduled for May 16.

Its the first clemency plea before Gov. Lee since he took office in January.

“We certainly know its a very serious subject that will require a lot of information, a lot of input, [and] a lot of counsel,” Gov. Lee said last week.

Johnson, along with the now-adult daughter of the woman he killed, asked Gov. Lee to stop the execution and allow him to serve a sentence of life in prison. The 21-page plea sent to Lee’s desk says Johnson’s only daughter has forgiven him for killing her mother. 

In 2006, Johnson spoke of what he called “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” that he developed while on Death Row.

“I have a peace now because that relationship transcends anything that allows me to deal with whatever I have to deal with here,” he wrote to the governor. 

Lee, a professed Christian, also brings a distinct perspective from his predecessors after years serving on the board of a prison ministry called Men of Valor. However, he has not announced if he will meet with Don Johnson’s daughter as she requested.

“We are going to start talking about what that process looks like — who we meet with, who we bring together — to make this very important decision,” Lee said last week. 

Previous governors have typically made clemency decisions just days for scheduled executions. 

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