Former KHS student set to be executed

Former+KHS+student+Kevin+Johnson+is+scheduled+to+die+by+injection+Nov.+29+for+the+killing+of+Kirkwood+Police+Sergeant+William+McEntee+17+years+ago.

Melly Sands

Former KHS student Kevin Johnson is scheduled to die by injection Nov. 29 for the killing of Kirkwood Police Sergeant William McEntee 17 years ago.

By Caroline Steidley, Kirkwood High School

Former KHS student Kevin Johnson is scheduled to die by injection Nov. 29 for the killing of Kirkwood Police Sergeant William McEntee 17 years ago.

It was July 5, 2005, when McEntee arrived in Meacham Park to arrest Johnson, who had an outstanding warrant for a probation violation resulting from a misdemeanor assault. Ten minutes after McEntee arrived, Johnson’s brother, Joseph Long, began experiencing heart complications in the residence next door. McEntee and his fellow officers halted their search of Johnson’s car to provide medical assistance to Long next door. Long was then taken to the hospital by police where he died that evening  from a pre-existing heart condition.

McEntee returned to Meacham Park at 7:30 p.m. responding to a report of fireworks. According to caselaw.findlaw.com, as McEntee was sitting in his car, unarmed, 19-year-old Johnson, grabbed a 9 millimeter handgun from his pocket, walked over to McEntee’s car, bent over the passenger window, and mouthed the words, “you killed my brother,” before firing his gun. McEntee was shot a total of seven times in the head and torso.

“Did he do something that was terribly wrong? Of course. But that one act doesn’t dictate who he is as a person,” Romona Miller, former KHS assistant principal, said. “It’s very easy to come to this conclusion that he is a terrible person, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Johnson’s death warrant will be the second this year in Missouri. Advocates for Johnson claim the police did not do enough to help his younger brother, and that the police were instead focused on Johnson’s search warrant. Miller said that Johnson’s family was restricted from seeing Long when the seizure took place.

Former KHS student Kevin Johnson is scheduled to die by injection Nov. 29 for the killing of Kirkwood Police Sergeant William McEntee 17 years ago.”

Before the incident, Miller said she went to the police station to complain about McEntee. She said many of her students reported they felt McEntee treated them unfairly due to their race. Miller said the police ignored the problem and that it was not addressed.

William Freivogel, professor and former director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, talked to Miller at the time of the case, and agreed the police dismissed the problem.

“The Kirkwood police, allegedly, according to Romona Miller and Kevin Johnson, [had] harassed him and the kids in Meacham Park,” Freivogel said. “Chief Jack Plummer [police chief of Kirkwood at the time] said he didn’t know anything about it. If you have an assistant principal of a high school come in with that [information], it has to be taken seriously, and it wasn’t.”

Miller ended up testifying as a character witness at  Johnson’s trial. Despite several negative comments from her peers and colleagues, Miller said she listened to her heart.

“I was told by many people that it would be career suicide,” Miller said. “But [being] the person that I am, I can’t worry about what other people think. I have to be able to look in the mirror and [like] how I see myself. There was never a moment that I hesitated. It was very important to take a stand for him. I have and will continue to advocate and ask for clemency.”

Melissa Fuoss, former KHS English teacher, also testified for Johnson. She said she decided to defend Johnson because she knew that he did not deserve the death penalty.

“When I testified, I talked about him writing a poem about giving his baby daughter a bath,” Fuoss said. “The gentleness of his words showed his awe for his daughter.”

Did he do something that was terribly wrong? Of course. But that one act doesn’t dictate who he is as a person,”

Fuoss believes there is institutionalized racism within the justice system. She also said the court cannot dismiss the fact that Johnson had a troubled childhood and that he was young when the crime was committed.

“We can’t ignore that his whole entire childhood was plagued with trauma. He was a victim of persistent abuse and neglect and he bounced around between group homes,” Fuoss said. “We can’t ignore that he has suffered from mental illness, and that he was still a teenager when the murder occured. We can’t ignore that he had just watched his younger brother die, and we can’t ignore that there is institutional racism in the systems that were supposed to be protecting him.”

Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch disagrees and urges jurors to dismiss Johnson’s troubled background, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. McCulloch’s father was a police officer who died on the line of duty, so this subject is sensitive to him. He said it is about time Johnson receives the death sentence and plans to attend the execution in person.

They want you to think that because he had a lousy childhood that he should not have to face the appropriate punishment,”

McCulloch said at trial, according to an Aug. 25 St.Louis Post-Dispatch article. “At some point, he has to be held accountable for what he did. A death sentence is justice for McEntee.”

Johnson, now 36, received his sentence from the St. Louis County circuit court in 2008 after prosecution by previous St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney McCulloch. Johnson’s supporters claim his trial dealt with racial bias and lack of sympathy, as he was 19 at the time of his crime.

Many also claim McCulloch struck Black jurors disproportionately. Current Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell submitted a letter to court on July 11 calling for a special prosecutor to investigate whether Johnson’s conviction and death sentence were affected by racial bias. There is currently a pending application in Bell’s office on Johnson’s behalf with the Conviction and Incident Review. The office has done a preliminary review of that application and determined Johnson’s case warrants an investigation. The office is still in the process of obtaining a special prosecutor to investigate and pursue Johnson’s claims.

“I just feel that in this case there are mitigating circumstances,”  Miller said.  “I’ve never spoken with anyone who has justified what he has done, but staying in prison without the possibility of parole is a huge punishment. [He has a] daughter, [and an expected] grandchild he will never have the opportunity to spend time out of prison to [see]. Family members will die and he won’t be able to spend time with them. I just don’t believe that the death penalty in this case is appropiate.”

Timeline of Kevin Johnson’s case: 

On July 5, 2005, around 5:20 p.m., Kirkwood police began to investigate Kevin Johnson’s vehicle at his residence in Meacham Park. At 5:30 p.m. the investigation was disrupted when Johnson’s younger brother had a seizure in the house next door. Sometime after the initial discovery of Johnson’s younger brother having seizures, the police went over to help and called an ambulance to transport him to the hospital, where he later died due to a pre-existing heart condition.

After the police left and Johnson’s brother died, Johnson grabbed his 9 millimeter handgun from his vehicle. Two hours after his brother’s seizure, at around 7:30 p.m., there was a report of fireworks in Meacham Park, and Sergeant William McEntee arrived. As McEntee was talking with three juveniles, Johnson approached McEntee’s car where he shot him five times.

McEntee tried to drive away, but eventually hit a tree due to his gunshot wounds. Johnson came back and shot McEntee two more times. After he shot him, Johnson searched McEntee’s pockets.

Johnson was arrested and later convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and three counts of armed criminal action. There were two murder trials for Johnson. The first ended in a hung jury. He was convicted in the second, which was held in 2007.

Johnson was sentenced to death Feb. 1, 2008, for McEntee’s killing. Johnson filed an appeal but was denied. He also filed a petition for writ of certiorari, a request that the U.S. Supreme Court review the case. That was also denied. Johnson is scheduled to die by injection Nov. 29, 2022.

The St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, Wesley Bell, submitted a letter to the court on July 11, asking a special prosecutor to review the case in search of any racial bias. The office has done a preliminary review of that application and determined Johnson’s case warrants an investigation. The office is still in the process of obtaining a special prosecutor to investigate and pursue Johnson’s claims.

This story was originally published on The Kirkwood Call on October 6, 2022.