By the time you read this column, James R. Johnson should be dead. Only a last-minute change of heart by Missouri Gov. Bob Holden would have spared Johnson's life. At this writing we can only hope Holden refuses to intervene.
James R. Johnson was a curious man by all accounts. Johnson was a church-going and popular man who was a productive member of society. Then came Dec. 9, 1991, and everything changed. Johnson says he had a Vietnam flashback from his combat experience. Regardless of the truth, Johnson killed three law enforcement officers and the wife of a sheriff on that fateful day. He's been awaiting his execution since.
Johnson had also been an exemplary prisoner for the past decade. He had worked with the prison ministry while incarcerated. But regardless what happened before Dec. 9, 1991, or afterward, Johnson deserved his final fate.
Johnson's night of terror was calculated and vicious. He ambushed each of his victims. His first victim was the sheriff's wife, shot through her living room window as she conducted a Bible lesson for church members. He then hid and waited for the law enforcement officers to rush to the scene. They did and one-by-one, James R. Johnson killed them. He never denied his actions.
I don't doubt that combat flashbacks are real. I assume they are. But Johnson's actions cannot be excused by his flashback defense. He took four lives in a calculated massacre and if all went according to plan, Johnson was executed just after midnight this morning.
Mental illness is a troubling topic in terms of crime discussions. Increasingly, those charged with violent crimes are blaming their actions on some mental defect. Society will always walk a fine line between the real and the contrived mental defect. Yet, regardless of the reasoning, someone must pay a price for the loss of life. And often that price should match the crime for which they are charged.