For a long time, I’ve disliked the “tiered adulthood” system we have in the United States. I remember when I was a young woman, many states made it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drink a beer. I thought it was crazy at the time. After all, in most cases, an 18 year old is considered an adult. An 18 year old can, for instance, sign up for the military and fight, kill, or die for their country. 18 year olds are allowed to vote, although some Republicans would like to change that after the most recent midterm elections. An 18 year old who commits capital murder can be sentenced to death, if he or she is in a death penalty state. And there have been many 18 year olds who have gotten married, had children, or both.
The list of things an 18 year old can legally do in the United States is pretty long. They are, by and large, truly considered members of the majority. I can even understand why the law exists that forbids people under 21 from legally drinking alcohol, given that the United States has such a poor public transportation system in so many areas, and people who are as young as 16 years old are allowed to drive by themselves. Medical studies have shown that a person’s brain and judgment haven’t fully developed until they are about 25 years old. Therefore, a person who is 21 might be less likely to drive drunk… although judging by the many videos that exist on YouTube, I can see that plenty of middle aged and older people still haven’t gotten the message.
Same thing goes for tobacco consumption. Since December 20, 2019, the minimum age at which it’s legal for a person to purchase or possess tobacco products is now 21 in all 50 states. That probably makes sense, since it might deter young people, whose brains are still developing, from picking up a dirty, nasty, expensive, and unhealthy habit, and dying too young of lung cancer. On the other hand, the smoking habit is a money maker for tobacco states, and it also helps cull the human race. Seriously… this was a topic we discussed when I was earning my master’s degree in public health. When many more people smoked, they tended to die younger, which helped ease the burden of our aging population somewhat. Now that smoking is less popular, people are living longer. Of course, not everyone who smokes like a chimney dies young, and when those people get sick, they really get sick. It costs more to take care of them. But then, everybody dies, right? And who needs another “nanny law”? Believe it or not, Trump was the president who signed the “Tobacco 21” legislation, making the minimum age for tobacco consumption a federal law. That was one thing he did right, I guess.
But a person can still do some pretty major stuff when they turn 18. In many cases, an 18 year old is considered a legal adult, and a full fledged member of the majority. That’s why I was puzzled yesterday, when I read about 19 year old Corionsa “Khorry” Ramey, a young mom from Missouri who was just denied the right to attend her father’s execution.
Ramey was just two years old when her father, 37 year old Kevin Johnson, went to prison after he was convicted of first degree murder. In 2005, Johnson was found guilty of killing Kirkwood, Missouri, 43 year old police sergeant and married father of three, William McEntee. For that crime, Johnson is scheduled to pay the ultimate penalty— execution by lethal injection at 6pm tonight at the state prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri.
Even though he’s been in prison for most of Ramey’s life, Kevin Johnson has somehow managed to be an involved parent to his daughter. Throughout the years, Ramey and Johnson have kept in touch through letters, phone calls, emails, and regular visits. They have developed a close bond, and Johnson requested that Ramey be one of the five people permitted to witness his execution. Nevertheless, because Ramey is only 19, she is barred from witnessing her father’s execution. Missouri law prohibits people under age 21 from attending executions. Federal Judge Brian Wimes refused to make an exception for Ramey, who is, by most accounts, a legal adult. Ramey is also the mother of a newborn son. Mr. Johnson did get to meet his grandson last month.
In a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), attorneys argued that the state law violated Ms. Ramey’s constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The complaint ACLU attorneys filed on Ms. Ramey’s behalf requested the court to stop the state from executing Johnson unless Ramey was permitted to attend as a witness. I suppose it’s possible that the ACLU lawsuit was one tactic used to prevent the state from executing Mr. Johnson. Johnson’s attorneys have also tried to stop tonight’s execution. They don’t deny that Johnson is guilty of murdering Sergeant McEntee, but have argued that racial discrimination played a part in the prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of Kevin Johnson.
The aspect of this case that really gave me pause, though, was reading that Ms. Ramey’s mother was killed when Ramey was just four years old, and that she had witnessed her mother’s death. While I’m certain that state ordered execution is a horrible thing to witness, the argument that Ramey is “too young” to see it is kind of ridiculous, as she’s already seen her mother die when she was a small child. Granted, the law is for everyone to follow, and it wouldn’t be right to ignore it in just one special case. But why set the minimum age at 21, if an 18 year old is an adult in most aspects of life in the United States? If Ramey were so inclined, she could join the military and see her comrades die in battle. She could be convicted of a capital crime herself and be executed at an age younger than 21. Why is 21 considered the “magic age” for witnessing something like this?
According to KOMU.com, Mr. Johnson was himself just 19 years old when he killed Sergeant McEntee. On July 5, 2005, police officers, including McEntee, were investigating a vehicle that was believed to belong to Johnson. Johnson had outstanding misdemeanor warrants and was believed to have violated his probation for assaulting his girlfriend. The police had come to his home to serve a warrant for his arrest. Johnson had seen the police officers approaching, and woke his 12 year old brother, Joseph “Bam Bam” Long. He told the boy, who suffered from a congenital heart defect, to go next door to their grandmother’s house. Bam Bam ran to their grandmother’s house, but then collapsed and suffered a seizure. McEntee had allegedly held back Bam Bam’s mom, as the boy convulsed; he later died at a hospital. Johnson blamed McEntee for his brother’s death.
Later that same evening, McEntee returned to the neighborhood to investigate unrelated reports of fireworks being shot off. At that point, McEntee encountered Johnson again, and Johnson was enraged over the sudden death of his little brother. He pulled out a gun and shot McEntee several times, which resulted in the police officer’s death. Years later, in an interview, Johnson took responsibility for the murder and admitted that he couldn’t blame McEntee for his brother’s untimely demise.
Earlier in this post, I mentioned the fact that medical research has shown that human brains are incompletely developed until around age 25 or so. Johnson’s lawyers argued that at age 19, Johnson’s brain and sense of judgment weren’t fully developed when he murdered McEntee. They also mention racism, which I’m sad to say, is still a very real thing.
Personally, I am against the death penalty in most cases. I think it’s an appropriate penalty when a person is clearly so unhinged that they will pose a danger if they are ever free again. The recent case of Darrell Brooks comes to mind; I watched and listened to him in court, and noticed that he had absolutely no remorse for killing six innocent people in a Wisconsin Christmas parade last year. He’s an example of a person whom I believe would not be reformed by prison and would think nothing of killing again if he felt provoked. Mr. Brooks was recently sentenced to six life sentences for murdering those people at the parade. Kevin Johnson committed his crime in a red state, where many people preach about the sanctity of life for the unborn, but have no compunction about allowing the state to kill already born people. Most already born people, of course, know what an execution is, and they often have family members and friends who will also suffer when they are executed.
I absolutely agree that Mr. Johnson needs to be punished for his crimes. I am glad to see that he took responsibility for what he did, and has been doing what he can to foster a relationship with his daughter. While I disagree that the death penalty is a the right punishment for most murder cases, I understand that Johnson killed a cop in a very red state, and very red states often penalize cop killers with the death penalty. I do think, however, that if the state is going to execute a man for a crime he committed when he was 19, the state should allow legal adults– that includes people over age 18, which Khorry Ramey is– to witness executions. And while an execution is not something I would ever want to witness myself, I can’t speak for everybody. Obviously, Khorry Ramey thinks she’s old enough and can handle it. Since she’s an adult and a parent herself, the court ought to take her wishes into consideration.
And… let’s not even get into the crazy irony that is regular life in the USA right now, when any idiot can carry a gun into a Walmart and murder people in cold blood. Our legal system is completed whacked.