Trump Administration Executes Man With Intellectual Disability Despite Supreme Court Protections

by : Cameron Frew on : 15 Jan 2021 11:22
United States Penitentiary/COUNSEL FOR COREY JOHNSON

The Trump administration executed a man with an intellectual disability despite Supreme Court protections.

Corey Johnson, 52, was convicted of murdering seven people in 1992 as part of his involvement in Virginia’s drug trade. He was pronounced dead at at 11.34pm ET last night, January 14, following a lethal injection of pentobarbital at Indiana’s Federal Correctional Complex.


His death comes after a lengthy legal battle. Johnson contracted COVID-19 while on death row, with his lawyers arguing that the infection plus his intellectual disability would cause ‘excruciating pain’ during his execution. While the execution was briefly pushed to March, a government appeal to the Supreme Court saw the killing proceed much sooner.

As per the HuffPost, Johnson’s lawyers, Donald P. Salzman and Ronald J. Tabak, said in a statement, ‘The government’s arbitrary rush to execute Mr. Johnson, who was categorically ineligible for execution due to his significant impairments, rested on procedural technicalities rather than any serious dispute that he was intellectually disabled.’

They continued, ‘No court ever held a hearing to consider the overwhelming evidence of Mr. Johnson’s intellectual disability. And the clemency process failed to play its historic role as a safeguard against violations of due process and the rule of law.’


The attorneys added, ‘We loved Corey Johnson, and we knew him as a gentle soul who never broke a rule in prison and kept trying, despite his limitations, to pass the GED. His family and loved ones are in our hearts.’

Salzman earlier lobbied for more time to ‘assess whether Mr. Johnson’s lungs have healed sufficiently that he will not suffer excruciating pain during an execution’. The request was denied.

The Supreme Court also prohibits executions for those with an intellectual disability, as it violates constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.


However, a psychologist – reportedly with no expertise – concluded Johnson didn’t have a disability, based partly on an ‘inaccurate’ interpretation of his IQ test. Up until his death, his attorneys asked courts for the chance to present the evidence that he did, in fact, have an intellectual disability, to no avail.

Corey Johnson Protest PA Images

Shira Wakschlag, legal director at The Arc, told the outlet, ‘There’s so many ways that it can still be happening. I mean, the procedural barriers are one massive issue, where if it’s not raised in a timely way or at the right time and certain appeals are exhausted, then it prevents you from even presenting that evidence once it’s located.’

Johnson’s final statement apologised to all of his victims by name. It read:


I would have said I was sorry before, but I didn’t know how. I hope you will find peace. To my family, I have always loved you, and your love has made me real. On the streets, I was looking for shortcuts, I had some good role models, I was side tracking, I was blind and stupid. I am not the same man that I was.

It added, ‘To the staff in the SCU. Thank you, you have been kind. The pizza and strawberry shake were wonderful. But I didn’t get the jelly-filled donuts that I ordered. What’s with that? This should be fixed.’

The statement concluded, ‘Thanks to the Chaplain who has been kind. Thanks to my legal team. Don has been more than a lawyer, he has become a friend. I am thankful to my minister. I am okay. I am at peace.’

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: News, Donald Trump, Now, Supreme Court


  1. HuffPost

    Trump Administration Executes Corey Johnson, Despite Evidence Of His Intellectual Disability