Despite urgent efforts by top Adventist leaders, lawyers, family and friends, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee will not stay the scheduled execution of Don Johnson, an Adventist inmate on death row.
Lee issued a brief statement on Tuesday evening. “After a prayerful and deliberate consideration of Don Johnson‘s request for clemency, and after a thorough review of the case, I am upholding the sentence of the State of Tennessee and will not be intervening.”
In December 1984, Donnie “Don” Johnson was arrested, tried, and convicted of first-degree murder for killing Connie, his wife of nearly seven years. Johnson received the death penalty from the State of Tennessee and has spent the last 35 years awaiting his execution.
Johnson’s story is exceptional. This once hardened criminal experienced a complete spiritual transformation behind bars and is a living testimony to the power of the gospel. According to a recent online news piece, “his commitment to Christianity began in the Shelby County jail while he awaited trial.” Johnson was introduced to the Seventh-day Adventist faith by other inmates and was baptized while on death row.
Johnson is an ordained elder at the Riverside Chapel Adventist Church in Nashville, Tenn., and although incarcerated, his ministry has changed lives for eternity. “‘He started becoming one of the leaders of our prison ministry,’ said Pastor Furman F. Fordham II, senior pastor at the Riverside church, who ordained Johnson in 2008. ‘Young men were leaving Riverbend (prison) as changed individuals.’”Johnson has hosted his own radio program, What the Bible Says, from jail.
Among the many people who appealed to the governor, calling for clemency in Johnson’s case, are Johnson’s step-daughter, Cynthia Vaughn; Fordham II; Elder Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists; and President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Ted N.C. Wilson.