Richard Charles Johnson in the News
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                Should Johnson receive clemency?

Gov. Jim Hodges today will announce the fate of Richard Charles Johnson,
who is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Friday for the killing of state
Trooper Bruce Smalls.

Hodges has 3 options:

1. Grant clemency, commuting Johnson's sentence to life without the
possibility of parole;

2. Grant a reprieve and ask the Board of Probation, Parole and Pardon
Services to study the matter;

3. Allow the execution to proceed.

A breakdown of the case for and against clemency:

THE CASE AGAINST CLEMENCY

Connie Hess, who now claims she killed the trooper, has changed her story
many times, has a history of mental illness and is not considered a
credible witness. Hess gave 4 police statements in 1985; in three of
them, she said Johnson killed Smalls and Daniel Swanson, owner of the
recreational vehicle involved. The other statement implicated Curtis
Harbert, a hitchhiker who was traveling with her and Johnson.

Harbert testified that Johnson killed both men.

Johnson pleaded guilty to robbing and killing Swanson.

A judge, whom the Supreme Court appointed to consider Hess' new claims,
concluded the "most reasonable" scenario was that Johnson 1st shot Smalls
from the area of the driver's seat of the RV while the trooper was being
distracted by Hess' leaving the vehicle and Harbert's gathering his
belongings.

Johnson already has been tried twice in Smalls' death, in 1986 and 1988,
and found guilty both times. Both juries sentenced him to death. The
state Supreme Court upheld the second verdict.

THE CASE FOR CLEMENCY

Hess has confessed to the crime.

There was no gunpowder residue on Johnson's hands. Hess wasn't tested,
and Harbert's test, which showed no residue, was done later than normally
recommended.

There were no fingerprints on the gun.

The conviction was heavily based on the testimony of Hess and Harbert,
who could have been guilty themselves, and testimony from a jailhouse
informant to whom Johnson allegedly confessed.

Hess and Harbert were granted immunity from prosecution for their
testimonies. Jurors weren't aware of that fact.

When Smalls was killed, Johnson's blood-alcohol level at the time was
estimated at .23 %. He remembered nothing of that day and couldn't defend
himself at trial.

(source for both: The State)



Governor denies clemency for Johnson

Gov. Jim Hodges has denied clemency for convicted killer Richard Charles
Johnson, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection Friday.

Hodges said he had spoken with the sister and the son of slain state
trooper Bruce Smalls.

They "expressed to me their belief that the jury and court's decision
should not be disturbed," Hodges said. "Upon a thorough review of the
record and careful consideration of all information provided, I am
convinced that Mr. Johnson is guilty as charged.

"The jury's sentence must be carried out. Clemency is not granted."

Johnson, 39, has been sentenced to death twice for killing Smalls during
a 1985 traffic stop along Interstate 95 in Jasper County. He was set to
die in October 1999, but the state Supreme Court stopped that execution
the day before it was scheduled.

Before making his decision Thursday, Hodges spoke with Smalls' family,
spokeswoman Cortney Owings said. Hodges also considered letters from
state religious and legal leaders as well as the state chapter of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposing the
execution.

Johnson is white, while the slain trooper is black.

A former chief justice of the state Supreme Court joined several
religious groups and more than 2 dozen former prosecutors in asking
Hodges to grant clemency for Johnson.

One of those writing letters to Hodges on Johnson's behalf is retired
state Chief Justice Ernest Finney. In 2000, the state Supreme Court ruled
that 1 of Johnson's co-defendants was not credible when she recanted her
testimony given at Johnson's trial and said she killed Smalls. Finney was
not part of that 3-2 vote, but he said the razor-thin margin wasn't
enough to "justify the imposition of the ultimate punishment."

"When the court divides three to two on the question of whether a man on
death row is actually guilty of committing the crime, I believe clemency
is warranted," Finney wrote.

The decision came after state NAACP President James Gallman urged Hodges
to let Johnson live. "The Johnson case had been riddled with errors from
investigation through trial," Gallman said. People administering justice
should make the sure the system is error free, he said. "Unfortunately,
that did not happen in this case."

The civil rights group opposes using the death penalty as a crime
deterrent, in part because studies show death penalties are used
disproportionately for poor and minority convicts, he said.

Hodges has received more than 1,850 letters and e-mails asking for
clemency for Johnson, with most of those coming from out-of-state, Owings
said.

History wasn't on the Johnson's side.

A South Carolina governor hasn't stopped any of the 25 executions
conducted in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974.
Hodges hasn't stopped four executions since taking office in 1999.

But Johnson's lawyers say this is a case like no other ever seen in the
state. Besides the support from religious leaders, prosecutors and
lawmakers, defense attorneys say they also have a statement from
co-defendant, Connie Sue Hess, saying she is the trooper's actual killer.

Prosecutors said Hess has given more than a half-dozen different stories
over nearly 15 years before confessing in 1999. A 2nd co-defendant Curtis
Harbert and Hess originally told police Johnson killed the trooper, and
both were let out of jail after Johnson was convicted and sentenced to
death. Harbert has never changed his testimony.

-AP



Johnson goes to death insisting he couldn't recall killing trooper

His final appeals rejected by the highest court in the land, Richard
Charles Johnson was put to death at 6:18 p.m. Friday for the 1985 slaying
of a state trooper.

"It is hard to explain how frustrating it is to be here year after year
when you have no memory of what happened, and not to be able to defend
yourself," Johnson wrote in a 4-paragraph statement released from the
death chamber.

"It is also hard to understand a system that would allow 2 people charged
with a crime to go free and take another man's life," he wrote.

Johnson's lawyers insisted the state may have killed the wrong man.

Lisa Goddard of WIS-TV in Columbia, a witness to the execution, said
Johnson maintained eye contact with his brother, John Johnson, until he
fell unconscious. "I love you brother and I'll see you later," she quoted
him as saying.

John Johnson, the only Johnson family member among the 9 witnesses,
thumped his chest with his fist and cried.

Wearing a green jumpsuit, Johnson lay on a gurney as his appeals attorney
John Blume read Johnson's statement.

The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday
morning denied 3 applications from Johnson's lawyers that could have
stopped the execution. The U.S. Supreme Court was Johnson's last resort
after the state Supreme Court denied another last-minute appeal on Monday
and Gov. Jim Hodges denied clemency on Thursday.

Through his attorneys, Johnson thanked his supporters and lawyers for
their efforts to spare his life Thursday afternoon, after Hodges refused
to stop the execution.

Earlier in the day, The Rev. Jesse Jackson, through his Rainbow Push
Coalition, denounced Hodges for refusing to grant clemency to Johnson.

"Tonight the state of South Carolina is gearing up for the execution of a
man who well could be innocent of the charges for which he has spent the
last 16 years on death row," Jackson said.

Noting that Illinois Gov. George Ryan had called for a moratorium on all
executions in that state, Jackson said such a move "was a true act of
courage."

"As I contrast Gov. Ryan's leadership with what is happening in my home
state of South Carolina under Gov. Jim Hodges, my heart grows heavy. I am
left wondering what possible good can come from Gov. Hodges' refusal to
do what is right," Jackson said.

"Sadly, it appears that election-year politics may be playing a larger
role in Gov. Hodges' decision than factual analysis. Politicians like
Gov. Hodges, guided by what they perceive to be popular opinion,
sacrifice an opportunity to come down on the right side of history,"
Jackson said.

Others also have focused their ire over the death penalty on the
Democratic governor. About a dozen death penalty opponents demonstrated
outside the Governor's Mansion Friday. Another dozen protestors marched
outside the state prison on Broad River Road where Johnson was executed.

"The governor is supposed to be the last safety valve in the system, and
one of the primary reasons the clemency power exists is to prevent the
execution of a potentially innocent person. Ricky Johnson's execution
demonstrates the ineptitude of the capital appeals process and the
impotence of clemency in South Carolina," said a statement issued by the
coalition.

Without a last-minute stay by the U.S. Supreme Court, Johnson, 39, will
be executed by lethal injection in the state's Capital Punishment
Facility in Columbia at 6 p.m.

Johnson becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
South Carolina and the 26th overall since the state resumed capital
punishment in 1985.

Johnson becomes the 24th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
the USA and the 773nd overall since America resumed executions on January
17, 1977.

(sources: Greenville News & Rick Halperin)



Johnson's 4-paragraph, unsigned statement written on a legal pad
 

I would like to thank Trooper Smalls' mother, Thelma Blue, and other
members of the Smalls family who asked the governor to commute my
sentence. If everyone in the world had the courage and compassion they
have shown, it would be a much better place.

It is hard to explain how frustrating it is to be here year after year
when you have no memory of what happened, and not to be able to defend
yourself. It is also hard to understand a system that would allow 2
people charged with a crime to go free and take another man's life.

I want to thank my mother and sister and brother and all my family and
friends for standing by me all these years.

I want to thank all the people who have supported me, my lawyer and
everyone who wrote, called, and contacted the governor on my behalf. Keep
up the fight against the death penalty. Take care.

(source: Greenville News)



                    South Carolina's injustice?
It's entirely possible that Richard Charles Johnson didn't do it.

If the Morehead City native dies in a South Carolina execution chamber at
6 tonight as scheduled, he will stand as a martyr in the struggle against
the death penalty.

One day in 1985, Johnson and Daniel Swansen left Morehead City in
Swansen's RV. At a rest stop just over the South Carolina line they
picked up two hitchhikers, Curtis Harbart and girlfriend Connie Sue Hess.
At some point after that, Swansen was shot to death. An extremely
intoxicated Johnson took the wheel, driving so erratically that South
Carolina Trooper Bruce Smalls pulled him over.

Someone in the van shot Trooper Smalls 6 times in the chest, killing him.
Harbart, Hess and Johnson were indicted for capital murder. Harbart and
Hess were set free when they testified against Johnson at trial. Johnson
-- hospitalized with a .23 blood alcohol level following the crimes --
says he has no memory of the events.

He was, however, in possession of the Swansen murder weapon when he was
arrested; the Smalls murder weapon was found by the side of the road that
he and the others were traveling.

The state has not explained why Johnson ditched one murder weapon and not
the other. The weapon at the roadside had no fingerprints. Even if
Johnson did discard it, there is no evidence that he ever fired the gun.

On the basis of these facts, the State of South Carolina proposes to take
a life today.

Not only is the evidence convicting Johnson dubious, there is exculpatory
evidence that was not brought out at trial. Most compellingly, someone
else has since confessed to the crime.

In1999, Connie Sue Hess confessed to murdering Trooper Smalls herself.
She said that Harbart had killed Swansen after having sex with him, and
that she killed the trooper out of fear that her boyfriend would be
arrested for the other murder. Hess, whose statement was an admission
against self-interest said, "I am telling the truth now because I cannot
let Richard Johnson die for something he did not do or have anything to
do with at all."

Hess says that her 1st statement had been a lie to protect herself: "I
lied because I did not want to die. The solicitor told me I would fry if
I had anything to do with it."

Her confession has been discounted because she wrote it from a mental
health institution and because she had changed her story many times. No
formal effort has been made to assess her mental state and investigate
her credibility.

Yet this is the only version of events for which there may be
corroborating proof -- the Swansen autopsy report shows that he had
homosexual sex prior to being murdered, despite the fact that Harbart has
denied it. Defense attempts to subpoena DNA samples taken from Swansen
are being thwarted.

South Carolina's attorney general argues that even if the DNA
corroborates Hess' story, it would only prove that a man had lied about a
homosexual encounter.

That's not quite true -- it also would prove that a man who had every
reason to lie did lie, and that at least part of Hess' confession is
true. It would leave the prosecution without an untainted witness.

There are many loose ends in this case: Hess' testimony needs to be
reviewed. Her story needs to be compared against the physical evidence --
DNA and powder burns -- to see if it is supported. Many reasonable doubts
linger.

Supporters of the death penalty, pay attention: it may be possible in
this case for a man to be executed when there is strong doubt of his
guilt.

And this case will not be halted by Johnson's death. His supporters will
continue to fight until the truth is proven to their satisfaction.

Johnson's lawyer, John Blume says, "We're not going to stop. No matter
what happens (tonight.) The truth needs to come out. We need to know if
the system doesn't work."

As a just society, we should determine that before we kill a man.

With just hours left, South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges was the only one
who could save Johnson -- by commuting his sentence to life imprisonment.
Thursday afternoon, Hodges refused to do so, saying "I am convinced that
Mr. Johnson is guilty as charged."

But as Trooper Small's mother said in a statement supporting clemency for
Johnson: "Killing Mr. Johnson if he is innocent is an abomination."

(source: Point of View; Elizabeth Soutter Schwarzer, who served as a
press secretary to former U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho, is a
commentator for 2 coastal North Carolina radio stations; News & Observer)



SOUTH CAROLINA---impending execution

Ex-justice joins chorus of pleas to spare life; Governor flooded with
requests to stop execution of inmate scheduled to die Friday

Some of the state's most prominent black leaders, including retired state
Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest Finney Jr., believe the man set to die
Friday for killing a state trooper should be spared.

The final decision rests with Gov. Jim Hodges, who is expected to
announce today whether he will grant clemency to Richard Charles Johnson,
39. Johnson, who is white, was convicted in the 1985 shooting death of
Trooper Bruce Smalls, who was black, on I-95 in Jasper County.

The execution is set for 6 p.m. Friday. If Hodges grants clemency, he
would be the 1st South Carolina governor to do so since the death penalty
was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court 25 years ago.

Johnson's lawyers had sought the support of the black community in hopes
it would reduce the political pressure on Hodges, who is seeking
re-election and received 90 % of the black vote in 1998.

Hodges' spokeswoman Cortney Owings declined to respond to questions on
whether that support would affect Hodges' decision.

Owings did say the governor had received 1,604 out-of-state and 250
in-state letters and e-mails in support of clemency, and none supporting
Johnson's execution.

State NAACP president James Gallman said he knows some people are making
much about race in this case. He said his concern is on fairness and justice.

There are too many questions surrounding Johnson's guilt to go ahead with
the execution, Gallman said.

"It would only be appropriate that the governor would give clemency and
would not go through with the execution," he said. "We don't want to look
back one or three years later and say that we executed the wrong guy."

Gallman said he doesn't expect the NAACP's executive committee to take an
official stand on Johnson's execution. He is hopeful the organization's
legal redress committee will have time to meet and make a statement to
Hodges before he announces his decision.

Finney wrote a letter to Hodges in which he states Johnson's conviction
"does not rest on firm or reliable ground which would in my view justify
the imposition of the ultimate punishment."

Finney retired from the Supreme Court before it issued its ruling last
year, voting 3-2 to deny Johnson a new trial after a one-time
co-defendant, Connie Hess, changed her story and said she killed the trooper.

"When the court divides three to two on the question of whether a man on
Death Row is actually guilty of committing the crime, I believe clemency
is warranted," Finney wrote.

State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, said he called Wednesday and also
asked Hodges to grant Johnson clemency.

"I did it with much prayerful thought," said Pinckney, whose constituents
include Smalls' relatives. "This is not something to take lightly.
Trooper Smalls was an excellent trooper. This puts me in a difficult
position. I have mixed feelings."

Pinckney said he didn't make his decision until after speaking with
Smalls' mother, Thelma Blue, and other relatives. Blue has asked Hodges
to spare Johnson.

His decision is about right and wrong and the possibility of executing
innocent people, not politics, Pinckney said.

Anyone who tries to politicize this case is making a mistake, said Joe
Neal, D-Richland. Democrats and Republicans have asked Hodges to commute
Johnson's death sentence to life without parole, Neal said.

"This is an example of how the death penalty is so difficult to
administer," he said. "In this case, the person to be executed is white.
If this happens to a white person, what can you expect to happen to a
black person? 53 % of the inmates on death row are black." Rep. Gilda
Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she supports clemency because she opposes
the death penalty.

"It's about the principle of the thing," she said. "This is about sparing
a man's life in a case with lots of questions."

Death penalty support in this case is irrelevant, said local activist
Kevin Gray.

"It's gotten down to the every man and woman level," Gray said. "If you
explain what's happened to people, they aren't for execution. It doesn't
matter whether you believe in the death penalty."

Hodges has to be reasonable, rational and responsible in making his
decision, Gray said.

"He is the safeguard. When all else fails, the process has to have
integrity."
 
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