20 May 1987 – Edward Earl Johnson

Edward Earl Johnson Protesting innocence seems to be the order of the day. Like Roger Coleman, Edward Earl Johnson claimed he was not guilty of the murder that turned a horrible offence into a capital crime.

Johnson had been found guilty of robbery and rape after he allegedly targeted a 69-year-old woman. But what clinched a stint in the Mississippi gas chamber was the fact that a cop had been killed as Johnson was said to be escaping.

No evidence

But the defence rested its case on the fact that there was only one witness to the murder, and that witness was dead. Other than that, there appeared to be no corroborating evidence to link Johnson to the crime scene. A would-be alibi is even said to have come forward, but she is said to have been put off by ‘a white man’, which triggered the suggestion that Johnson was the victim of endemic racism.

In an appeal following sentencing, Johnson’s attorney states, ‘No juror can say with absolute certainty that he, in fact, killed [the victim]. …there were discrepancies from both sides, of course. And with those discrepancies, now another thing, the court allows you and permits you to bring back a verdict of guilty, if you feel that the State has proven a case beyond a reasonable doubt. But you notice, they never said all doubt.’


And that last sentence encapsulates why Johnson’s defence failed so singularly and the reason why people deemed Johnson’s trial unfair – it is up to the defence to prove just one reasonable doubt, whereas the onus is on the State to prove beyond all reasonable doubt.

The critics and Johnson himself believed that the jury was misled and misinformed and the speech above highlights a pure example of the weakness of Johnson’s original legal team. At a time when racism was still overwhelmingly a part of Southern life, not only was he misrepresented, but there was also talk of veiled threats and sinister goings-on. Even the key witness was said to have changed her story a number of times. However, this is all unconfirmed and remains conjecture.

Yet, one thing is true – there may have been another suspect on the scene: Charles Coleman. All the evidence is said to have underpinned Coleman as the key perpetrator of the crimes. Nevertheless, Johnson carried the can and was sentenced to live out his remaining days on death row.

Last days on film

Once again the media was instrumental in swaying opinion. A BBC documentary entitled ’14 Days in May’, covered the last two weeks of Johnson’s life and it was overwhelmingly against his penalty. The programme provided statistics that showed four black Americans to every white American get the death penalty. And if you were rich you were more likely to be let off than if you were poor. It is generally agreed that the documentary was biased, nevertheless it did sow seeds of reasonable doubt in some people’s minds.

But it was too little, too late. Johnson was pronounced dead at 12.06am after he was gassed, aged roughly 26.

According to the ‘New York Times’, poignantly, just two days after Johnson was executed, apparently his would-be alibi came forward again to say she had been with him at the time of the rape and murder.

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28 Responses to “20 May 1987 – Edward Earl Johnson”

  1. google Says:

    this is really sad

  2. heiko kegel Says:

    ich finde es richtig so das edward earljohnson hingerichtet worten ist ist selber schuld

    • Recht Says:

      Ich fiinde, bevor du hier dein Kommentar gepostet hättest, hättest du dich vielleicht mehr über EEJ informieren sollen. Er ist ein Unschuldiger, der hingerichtet worden ist. Amerika wird dafür büßen. **** You, USA!

  3. heiko kegel Says:

    edward earljohnson hat denn tod vertient wer ein menschenleben auslöscht hat auch kein recht weider zu Leben

  4. heiko kegel Says:

    ich begrüße die todesstrafe in der usa mörder und kinderschender haben kein recht auf der erde weider zu Leben sowas mus gleich weg

  5. heiko kegel Says:

    es Lebe die Todesstrafe in der usa

  6. you’re sick heiko, that’s sad 😦

  7. l.libra Says:

    It isn’t a suprise that this man was excuited living in the south, you take a man from his family convict him as he awaites excuition someone come forward on his behalf and yet its surpressed, we continue to allow this to happen every day. So what is there for you say to his family im sorry just dont seem enough.

    • sorry certainly isn’t enough…..they’ll pay.

    • Anthony Bates Says:

      This was the work of Edonites. In the bible it is said that if you put someone in captivity, you will be put in captivity and if you murder someone you will be killed. the cops and prosecutors thar had a hand in this murder of an innocent man will get their’s from the most high as well as their loved ones.

  8. M.Somoza Says:

    I’m reading Welcome to Hell…is a really good book. In this book you’ll find more about Edward Johnson and trust me I feel really sad about his exicution. I can truly say this man was not guilty…and that horrible woman will always have in her mind the guilt of lettin him die for something he didn’t do….I pray God his soul to keep.

  9. Samuel Sinnlos Says:

    Heiko Kegel, du bist so krank im Kopf, da ist wohl alles zu spät

  10. Trish O'Brien Says:

    I will never forget the documentary it was extreamley sad and I feel that it was a waste of a life as I feel that he was innocent.
    I have also read the book Welcome to hell a very good book.
    I think of Edward alot.

  11. Patrick Says:

    I believe that Edward Earl Johnson was innocent. Each time that Donald Cabana is asked if he thought Johnson was guilty. He paused (a sign that he wasn’t sure) and said ‘yes’. Then he would go on and explain both sides of the issue (a sign of internal conflict) as if to convince himself of Johnson’s guilt. Finally, when they were moving him to the cell closest to the back door, Cabana did something that no warden or guard would ever do to an inmate, especially a convicted killer; he turned his back. Not once, but twice. I know there were security around at the time, but you NEVER turn your back on a prisoner! Unless you trust him with your life….

  12. Anthony Bates Says:

    I truly believe Edward was Innocent. Further, I believe a white person did those crimes and made up the fact tha black man did them posibly because the town marshall was probably trying to treat all the people fair in that town. I also believe the state of Mississippi is still a very prejudice and bigotted state as a whole.

  13. Catina Brantley Says:

    Tina Brantley Says:

    He was innocent and the whole town knows that he was innocent. He was just targeted because he was a black man. It is really sad that white people label all black people as look a likes. White people look alike too. A case without hard forsenic evidence can not stand in anybody’s court. But in the state of Mississippi it can. Mississippi will always be Mississippi. They just have a new rope now. It is called a computer. You can hit one button on it called the delete button.

  14. Travielle Ross Says:

    I was in the barbershop and was asked if I had ever heard about the case. I live in Leake county, the same county in which the incident occurred, and things haven’t changed. The current sheriff is the son-n-law of the man that was sheriff then. In the end, God has the last say so. I won’t let Edwards death be in vein.

  15. Talk Tuskegee Says:

    This story raises the hair on the back of my neck. It’s obvious that Edward Earl Johnson never had a chance from day one…..

  16. bobbie cairns Says:

    i was just a child when i watched the documentry about eward earl johnson and it haunts me 2 this day that the state of texas took this young mans life …… even as a child i felt this man was inocent by the way the whole thing was handled my heart goes out 2 his family and friends ….. the sad thing is that im sure he was not the only inocent man or woman 2 lose thier life 2 the american justice system .

  17. Least WE Forgett Says:

    Pure American hatred, no paper or constitution can change the minds of this country. We fight among ourselves about race, the rich use this to continue using the poor, whites are so ignorant as they are being used to keep our minds from seeing the real truth of stealing for the rich and continued poverty for the masses. This man died for that cause of injustice, keep the lower classes fighting while we get wealthy. What does life mean when one race determinds if another race survives just because of skin color. I hope that the truth will be uncovered before the world ends.

  18. Scott Says:

    25 years ago today Edward was wrongfully executed. I wonder why he was selected to be framed. Our thoughts are with his family today, RIP Edward Earl Johnson !

  19. Steve Says:

    initially the community appeared to believe Edward was guilty as Edward commented ‘they finally believe it now’ referring to his innocence.

  20. “The programme provided statistics that showed four black Americans to every white American get the death penalty.”

    Completely false. Since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970’s, almost twice as many whites have been executed as blacks. There certainly was a pronounced racial bias in executions for the first half of the 20th century but a four to one ratio is ridiculous for any time period.

    “At a time when racism was still overwhelmingly a part of Southern life”

    There wasn’t overwhelming racism by the time of Edward Johnson’s arrest. By the late 1970’s a black person was arguably better off being tried in Mississippi than other states for a very simple reason; since Mississippi has the highest percentage of blacks, a black defendant has a better chance for having many black jurors who supposedly would be more sympathetic. I saw all-black juries as early as 1980. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 led to an end to the monopoly of all-white juries.

    • Sam Says:

      You can not really believe that the passage of the Civil Rights Act halted racism in the south. To this very day, regardless of the percentage of blacks, racism is still prevalent in some areas. Especially in Mississippi. Read the case on the older black male taking his normal early morning walk only to be plowed down by four white teens for doing nothing other than being black. And there are certainly trials that still contain all white juries for black defendants because prosecutors summarily dismiss qualified potential jurors who are black to tip the jury in their favor.

  21. I remember watching the film in 1988 and it still haunts me to this day. An innocent man was executed and with all the lawyers who tried desperately to save his life couldn’t convince the state of Mississippi of his innocence. This man kept his cool and believed that he would have his innocence proven and his life saved. It took days after his death for the state to realize that he really was innocent and the real killer was brought to justice. Way to go justice system.

  22. joseph barton Says:

    edward earl was innocent. never a calmer man went to his death.

  23. Vic Buttigieg Buttigieg Says:

    Edward earl johnsons execution was yet another racial cullin by white so called american who have always victimised black people, even though even the white man is only a visitor to the usa born there or not.there is certainly no such race as white american, the vast majority are from european heritage.this was hateful spiteful racial cullin simple as that.r.i.p edward earl johnson

  24. Vic Buttigieg Buttigieg Says:

    Yet more evidence of the racial kullin that still goes on in the usa even today 2014.kullin by white people that call themselves americans ? Theres no such race as white american so what the hell gives them the right to carry out such hateful racist kullin for all these years and diguisse it as homicide every time. Lets not forget born there or not the white man is only a guest in the usa as the usa belongs to the red indians FACT

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