Ernest Johnson, Missouri
October 5, 2021
The state of Missouri has carried out the execution of Ernest Lee Johnson on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. Ernest was pronounced dead at 6:11 pm local time, inside the execution chamber at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri. He was 61 years of age. Ernest was convicted of murdering 46-year-old Mary Bratcher, 58-year-old Fred Jones, and 57-year-old Mabel Scruggs during a convenience store robbery on February 12, 1994, in Columbia, Missouri. Ernest spent the last 26 years of his life on Missouri’s death row.
Ernest Johnson was born to alcoholic parents. His mother drank while she was pregnant with Ernest. His parents often physically fought. Ernest’s mother burned down the shack where they lived twice. His father would chase after his wife, shooting at her. Ernest’s father also chased and shot at the children. Ernest and his siblings had an unstable childhood, frequently moving. He and his siblings were also physically abused. Ernest was small for his age and left school after the 6th grade. He did not receive medical treatment for any illness or injury as a child, including when he lost consciousness after falling off a wagon and hitting his head. When living with his mother, Ernest was encouraged to prostitute himself. He received drugs and alcohol as a reward, leading to him becoming an addict.
Around 11 am, on Saturday, February 12, 1994, Ernest Johnson visited a convenience store in Columbia, Missouri, purchasing a bottle of beer and a pack of cigarettes. Johnson was a frequent visitor of the store, coming back early that afternoon. He did not make a purchase but did learn that a shift change would occur at 5 pm and that the store would close at 11 pm.
Johnson visited again that afternoon and again made no purchases. Johnson also appeared during the shift change with a backpack. He again made no purchases but appeared to be carefully observing a leaving employee who was placing money in the safe.
Johnson then went to the home of his girlfriend and purchased a rock of crack cocaine from his girlfriend’s 18-year-old son, Rodriguez Grant. Johnson later purchased two more rocks from Grant and asked to borrow a .25 caliber pistol. The two men fired the weapon in the backyard to ensure it was in working condition. Johnson returned the gun a short time later, claiming it did not work.
However, Johnson later retrieved the weapon and left the house, heading in the direction of the convenience store, wearing layers of clothing, black tennis shoes, and a mask. When Johnson returned to the house, around 11:45 pm, he had blood splatters on his clothing and face. Johnson returned the pistol to Grant, cleaned his shoes, took off his clothes, and told Grant’s brother to dispose of the clothes. Johnson and Grant then counted the large sum of money Johnson had stolen.
Police officers discovered the robbery at 1:12 am after police received a tip that the store’s lights were still on. They had also had a report of possible violence with weapons at the store. Upon entering, police noticed blood smears on the front door lock. They found two dead bodies in the bathroom and another body in the walk-in cooler, along with a .25 caliber shell casing. Police also discovered that the safe was empty.
The three victims were all store employees: Mary Bratcher, Fred Jones, and Mabel Scruggs. Each victim died due to a head injury consistent with a bloody hammer, also found at the scene. In addition, Mary had several stab wounds consistent with a bloody, flat-head screwdriver, found in a nearby field. Fred received a nonfatal gunshot wound in the face.
Police quickly focused on Johnson as their suspect. They discovered Johnson had, for the past month, spoken about robbing a store with multiple employees. Johnson said he would lock all but one employee in a back room and force the one employee to open the safe. Grant’s brother also led police to the clothing and weapon, which Johnson had instructed them to hide.
Pray for peace and healing for the families of Mary Bratcher, Fred Jones, and Mabel Scruggs. Pray for strength for the family of Ernest Johnson.
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