US death row inmate forgoes last meal, asks supporters to feed homeless

NASHVILLE – Tennessee death row inmate Donnie Edward Johnson did not want a special last meal before his execution Thursday. Instead, he wanted his supporters to donate meals to the homeless.

Condemned inmates in Tennessee can spend up to $20 on a last meal before they are executed. Johnson, who was executed by lethal injection Thursday night at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, declined to pick one.

Johnson’s attorney, federal public defender Kelley Henry, said the decision was a tribute to executed Tennessee inmate Philip Workman, who had requested that the $20 for his last meal in 2007 go toward vegetarian pizzas for a local homeless shelter.

Prison staff did not send a pizza to the shelter, but Workman’s supporters did. Johnson wants the people who supported him to do the same.

“Mr. Johnson realizes that his $20 allotment will not feed many homeless people,” Henry said earlier this week in an email. “His request is that those who have supported him provide a meal to a homeless person.”

He was the 136th person put to death by Tennessee since 1916 and the fourth person since the state resumed executions in August.

Johnson, 68, was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of his wife, Connie Johnson, in Memphis. He suffocated her by stuffing a 30-gallon trash bag down her throat.

Johnson and his legal team have not questioned the horrific nature of his crime. But they have stressed his religious transformation behind bars while urging Gov. Bill Lee to grant him mercy. Johnson became an elder in the Seventh-day Adventist Church on death row, and leads prayer services for his fellow inmates.

Lee denied his clemency appeal Tuesday.

Connie Johnson’s daughter Cynthia Vaughn, who Donnie Johnson adopted, became an advocate for her stepfather in the lead-up to the execution, begging the governor to intervene.

An hour before the execution, a group of people believed to be witnesses walked into the prison with their arms linked. Johnson’s spiritual adviser John Dysinger and his wife came and met with him and left.

They said they didn’t want to witness the execution.

“This tragedy has come to an end for us all,” Johnson’s family said in a statement through their attorney. “For some, the pain will remain forever.”

While Johnson has recently received a lot of media attention surrounding his execution, the family said they hope the victim is remembered.

“Connie was loved and has been missed these many years,” the statement said. “Connie had a great laugh and the kindest heart. We pray for peace for her children and for her family. We hope today will give Connie’s family some closure they so deeply deserve.”

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Death row inmate forgoes last meal, asks supporters to feed homeless