Missouri Supreme Court upholds Ernest Lee Johnson death sentencing

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 | 6:21 p.m. CST; updated 8:18 p.m. CST, Tuesday, March 1, 2011

COLUMBIA — Ernest Lee Johnson's latest effort to appeal his three death sentences was rejected by the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Johnson was convicted in 1995 of a triple homicide in a Casey's General Store in Columbia in 1994. He was given a separate death sentence for each of his victims.

Since then, Johnson, who is now 50 years old, has tried to reverse his sentencing three times.

The most recent appeal, filed by Johnson's attorney William Swift, argued his previous counsel failed to show the court evidence of Johnson's mental disability. Among six of his arguments to appeal was that his counsel knowingly called an expert to the stand who was previously found to be unqualified to speak to Johnson's mental condition.

The court, though, did not find any of the six points to be proof of insufficient representation from his counsel. 

From here, Swift said he plans to file a re-hearing motion within the next 15 days to argue the Missouri Supreme Court's opinion. The motion, Swift said, will show how the court misapplied the law and facts to find its opinion.

Swift said Tuesday that courts typically deny re-hearing motions, but it also has the choice to modify its opinion.

If the motion is denied, Johnson's next appeal — if he chooses to file one — will shift to the federal court system. Swift said he expects Johnson to continue appealing the sentencing.

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