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Gov. Bill Lee Faces Decision About First Execution Under His Watch

Donnie Johnson is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection or the electric chair on Thursday.
The Tennessean (pool photo)
Donnie Johnson is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection or the electric chair on Thursday.

A West Tennessee man is scheduled to be executed on Thursday for the murder of his wife — possibly becoming the first person to be executed under Gov. Bill Lee.

The Republican has not said yet whether he'll grant clemency to Donnie Johnson, who was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of his wife, Connie.

Johnson's supporters hope Lee will be persuaded by his embrace of Christianity in the three decades he's been behind bars, as well as the trauma Johnson suffered from childhood abuse. Johnson has embraced Seventh-day Adventism while in prison, even becoming an ordained elder.

"He has spread the Good News more effectively than any volunteer from the outside world can hope to do," his backers write in his appeal for clemency to Lee.

MORE: Read Donnie Johnson's appeal for clemency

Johnson's supporters include his stepdaughter, Connie Johnson's daughter from a previous marriage, who says she's forgiven him. But Johnson's other child, a son named Jason, say his religious conversion is a fraud. Investigators who worked the scene of the murder are also calling for Johnson's execution to proceed. 

Johnson has not yet selected how he wants to be put to death. The Tennessean reports that he's waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the state's lethal injection protocol.

Because Johnson committed his crime before 1999, he has the choice between that method and electrocution. The past two executions in Tennessee have been in the electric chair.

Copyright 2019 WPLN News

Chas joined WPLN in 2015 after eight years with The Tennessean, including more than five years as the newspaper's statehouse reporter.Chas has also covered communities, politics and business in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Chas grew up in South Carolina and attended Columbia University in New York, where he studied economics and journalism. Outside of work, he's a dedicated distance runner, having completed a dozen marathons