Tennessee Governor’s Review of Clemency Appeal for Adventist Elder Awaiting Execution “Well Under Way”
17 April 2019 | Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has confirmed that he is currently considering a plea for mercy for an Adventist church elder and death row inmate scheduled to be executed on May 16. The governor said that his review of Donnie Edward Johnson’s case was “well under way” but that he could not yet announce a decision.
“It’s a thought process and something that I’ve never had to consider in my whole life,” said Lee according to the Tennessean. “And the power is profound.”
He was speaking earlier today at an event focused on criminal justice reform. He said that he did not have an overall philosophy of executive clemency yet.
“I will approach each individual case differently,” said the Republican governor who was inaugurated earlier this year. “It’s awfully early for me to be able to comment on how I view the situation.”
Cynthia Vaughn, daughter of Connie Johnson whom Donnie Edward Johnson killed, has asked Governor Lee to show the deathrow inmate mercy. At the time of her murder, Johnson was married to the victim.
Vaughn said that she had forgiven Johnson of her mother’s murder. According to the Tennessean, this forgiveness is the centerpiece of the clemency petition put forward by Johnson’s legal team. The document claims that Johnson has been transformed from “a liar, a cheat, a con man and a murderer” to an ordained Adventist elder “with a flock in prison.”
Johnson was baptized as an Adventist while on death row and was ordained as a church elder at Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nashville in 2008. He now preaches to other inmates and listeners to his radio program What the Bible Says.
Governor Lee stressed his Christian faith during his campaign for office. In the appeal to Lee, Johnson’s legal team describes his as “an extraordinary case, where mercy, forgiveness, redemption and the miracle of rebirth in Christ all come together to warrant an exercise of your constitutional powers.” A spokesperson for Lee has stated that he would review the petition.
Johnson reached out to Vaughn after his initial execution date was delayed in 2006. Vaughn visited him in 2012.
“After I was finished telling him about all the years of pain and agony he had caused, I sat down and heard a voice. The voice told me, ‘That’s it, let it go,’” said Vaughn in the clemency petition. “The next thing that came out of my mouth changed my life forever.
“I looked at him, told him I couldn’t keep hating him because it was doing nothing but killing me instead of him, and then I said, ‘I forgive you.’”