Death row inmate skips last meal and asks supporters to donate meals to the homeless

PHOTO: Don Johnson is scheduled to be executed in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday May 16, 2019. He was convicted in 1985 of murdering his wife. PlayCourtesy of Kelley Henry
WATCH News headlines today: May 16, 2019

A death row inmate in Tennessee decided to forgo his last meal and is hoping that others will get fed as a result.

Don Johnson, who murdered his wife in 1985 and was executed Thursday evening, declined to have a final meal and wanted to send a vegetarian pizza to the homeless instead.

His attorney, Kelley Henry, a public defender in Nashville, told ABC News that Johnson was inspired by Phillip Workman, a jail friend of Johnson's who was executed in 2007.

Workman also asked to have his final meal donated in the form of a vegetarian pizza, but that was not logistically possible through the Tennessee Department of Correction, Henry said.

The Tennessee Department of Correction released a statement Wednesday saying that Johnson “has opted to forgo selection of a last meal,” not mentioning his wish for his meal to be donated but adding that “he will be offered the same menu that is served to the rest of the offenders at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.”

PHOTO: This undated file image released by the Tennessee Department of Correction shows death row inmate Don Johnson. Tennessee Department of Corrections via AP, File
This undated file image released by the Tennessee Department of Correction shows death row inmate Don Johnson.

Henry said the decision to donate the meal is “against policy.”

Supporters of Johnson, who became an ordained Seventh-Day Adventist elder while in prison, have taken up the mantle.

Furmam Fordham, who is a senior pastor at the Riverside Chapel Seventh-Day Adventist Church and who ordained Johnson, said there will be prayer service Thursday evening that will continue through the scheduled execution at 7 p.m. Henry confirmed that Johnson is slated to be executed by lethal injection.

“We are telling our members that if they can give Kroger gift cards it will help us in our plan to have our community memorial day dinner where we will feed the homeless per Don’s request,” Fordham said.

“The idea came from the $20 donation that he wanted to make,” Fordham said about the budget allotted for last meals in the state.

Johnson was convicted after murdering his wife Connie Johnson in 1984 by stuffing a 30-gallon trash bag down her throat and suffocating her, according to The Tennessean.

Henry said that Don Johnson “admits criminal and moral responsibly for the death of his wife” and he found religion during his decades spent on death row.

PHOTO: Don Johnson is scheduled to be executed in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday May 16, 2019. He was convicted in 1985 of murdering his wife. Courtesy of Kelley Henry
Don Johnson is scheduled to be executed in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday May 16, 2019. He was convicted in 1985 of murdering his wife.

“He is a man who is strong in his faith, who has found forgiveness and redemption, and he is doing his best to comfort all of this supporters, and he is at peace,” Henry said.

A letter addressed to Johnson’s children and his wife’s relatives was released publicly after his clemency request was denied by Gov. Bill Lee this week, though it is unclear if the letter was sent directly to the relatives.

In the letter, Don Johnson asked for their forgiveness "for the pain that I have caused you and so many others in my life."

"It is because of the person that I had became that I found that I was not a man but a monster and I was determined this would no longer be acceptable and I sought the Lord for I was at the bottom of the barrel and the only way left for me was up," Don Johnson wrote in the letter which was obtained by ABC News.

Don Johnson’s adopted stepdaughter, Cynthia Vaughn, whose mother was Connie Johnson, has forgiven him but his son, Jason Johnson, has spoken out publicly against his father.

“He is doing anything he can to save his own neck. It's not about faith. If it was about faith, he would go on and be executed and have his judgement with God ‘cause that's the only person who can judge him or forgive him,” Jason Johnson said, according to local ABC affiliate WKRN.

Don Johnson was the first person to be executed this year in Tennessee and the sixth person executed in the country this year, according to The Death Penalty Information Center. The Birmingham News in Alabama reports that an inmate there -- convicted murderer Michael Samra -- was executed Thursday evening as well.

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