May 16, 2019 / 11:16 AM / 3 days ago

Tennessee executes man convicted of wife's murder three decades ago

(Reuters) - Tennessee on Thursday executed a 68-year-old man who was convicted three decades ago of suffocating his wife with a large plastic garbage bag, a crime he blamed on an inmate on work release.

Death row inmate Donnie Johnson, scheduled to be executed May 16, 2019, is shown in this January 2, 2019 photo. Tennessee Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Donnie Johnson was put to death by lethal injection at 7:37 p.m. CDT at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, the state’s Department of Correction said in a statement.

Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in November 1985 for killing his wife, Connie, on Dec. 8, 1984, after she went to see him at a Memphis camping supply store where he worked.

Johnson’s co-worker Ronnie McCoy, an inmate on work release, testified that he left the couple alone in an office for about 15 minutes. When he returned, he found Connie suffocated, according to his court testimony.

McCoy testified that he and Johnson then put her body in her vehicle and drove it to a nearby shopping center where they left it.

Authorities said Johnson asked a store manager the next morning to help him find his wife, who he said had gone missing. During their search, they found her dead in her van with a large garbage bag in her mouth, according to court documents.

During the investigation, Johnson told police that he had given his wife about $450 that day for Christmas shopping and that McCoy had tried to rob his wife and killed her in the process, according to the court documents.

Johnson did not testify during his trial. During his sentencing hearing, he took the stand where he denied killing his wife, placing blame on McCoy, the court documents said.

McCoy was not charged in the case. It is unclear if he was granted immunity for his testimony.

Johnson filed several unsuccessful appeals including a challenge to the state’s lethal injection protocol with other inmates, arguing it caused “excruciating pain.”

Johnson and Michael Samra, a convicted quadruple murderer who was executed in Alabama on Thursday, were the sixth and seventh inmates executed in the United States in 2019, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization that tracks executions in the United States.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney

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