Seventh-day Adventist inmate denied clemency in death penalty case

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Members of Riverside Chapel Adventist Church gather in front of the Capitol building in Nashville to pray for Donnie Johnson. (Photo: Facebook)

A Seventh-day Adventist inmate in the US state of Tennessee has had his appeal for clemency rejected, days before his execution.

Donnie Edward Johnson, who was convicted of murdering his wife in 1984, has been on death row for more than 30 years. But in 1990, death row inmates Michael Cole and Will Sparks introduced Mr Johnson to their Seventh-day Adventist faith.

“Willy Sparks had been in the seminary at Southern Adventist University before coming to death row, and he explained the scriptures in a clear way,” said Mr Johnson in a recent interview with USA Today. “They opened up the Bible to me in ways I had never thought possible.”

Mr Johnson has been a member of the Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church ever since, and was ordained as an elder in 2008. He currently supports his fellow death row inmates at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution by leading Bible studies, and has started a radio program called “What the Bible Says.”

“He has been leading and serving in such a way that what he’s doing in there is the exact kind of ministry that we would definitely ordain someone for out here,” said senior church pastor Furman Fordham. “I was accustomed to being at different churches where you’d have a prison ministry, but I had never seen one of the prisoners leading it.”

Riverside Chapel pastor Furman Fordham prays with other church members. (Photo: Gannett Co, Inc/USA Today)

Mr Johnson lodged an petition for clemency last year with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, whose Christian faith was prominent during his successful campaign for office. During the application process, several Christian leaders also wrote to Governor Lee urging him to stop the execution, including Seventh-day Adventist Church world president Ted Wilson.

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