Update: Gov. Lee Upholds Death Sentence

May 14, 2019

Death Row inmate Donnie Johnson


At 5:23 p.m. Tuesday, Gov. Bill Lee released the following statement:  "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.”


Gov. Bill Lee says he is still considering a clemency request for convicted killer Donnie Johnson, who murdered his wife in 1984.

Johnson is set to die Thursday by lethal injection and would be the first person executed during Lee’s term.

“There are a lot of things in weighing a difficult decision like that,” Lee said. “So we’ve gone through quite a process.”

Lee spoke to reporters Tuesday at a agriculture technology conference in Memphis dubbed “Davos on the Delta.”

The world president of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, in which Johnson is an ordained elder, has appealed to Gov. Lee for a stay.

Church representatives argue Johnson could “better serve the community by leading his fellow prisoners to God.”

When asked if Johnson’s relationship with the church was weighing into Lee’s decision, he responded that he had “done a lot of evaluating on that.”

The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Johnson on Monday. He and other death row inmates say the three-drug mix that Tennessee uses for lethal injection is unnecessarily painful and, thus, unconstitutional.

Gov. Lee did not speak to the state’s current lethal injection protocol.

“That is the law of the state, and the Supreme Court has upheld it, so… But we’ll be making a decision soon.”

Johnson was placed on death watch Tuesday, meaning he was moved to a cell next to the execution chamber.