Christopher Thomas Johnson, a man sentenced to die for the killing of his infant son, was pronounced dead at 6:25 p.m. Thursday at Holman Correctional Facility, after being executed by lethal injection.
|Christopher Thomas Johnson|
Holman chaplain Chris Summers and other prison officials looked on from inside the execution chamber.
Johnson, 38, was convicted of killing his 6-month-old son, Elias Ocean Johnson, at the family’s home in Atmore in February 2005. He has been on death row at Holman prison since February of 2007.
One family member was present as a witness — Johnson’s brother, Thomas Eugene Lagos, who had spent the day visiting the condemned man in a cell near the execution chamber.
In the small room for witnesses, Lagos sat on the front row, peering through the glass at Johnson, body in a sheet, who was strapped to a gurney on his back with his arms out to the sides.
Johnson’s left hand, closest to the window, made a sign with his index finger and little finger extended.
Brian Corbett, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections who was in the witness room, later said that he had seen other inmates make that sign during executions.
Corbett believed it was a symbol for "I love you."
At one point, Lagos leaned toward the glass as if to touch it, flashing that same sign.
After the lethal injection drugs appeared to flow through three tubes from an opening in the wall, Johnson’s left hand relaxed and his fingers lay flat. When his body twitched, Lagos said, "Cardiac arrest," although Corbett later said that Lagos was not accurate in his description of the medical event.
In the witness room, where there also were five news reporters, Lagos suddenly said, "It’s a hard thing to watch. A lot of questions are in a lot of minds.
"He paid his price," he went on. "He’s been waiting on this awhile. You can speak now. He’s done."
When a reporter began to ask Lagos a question, Corbett explained that Lagos could agree to be interviewed after the execution was finished, and outside of the prison area.
During the execution was not the appropriate time, Corbett said.
There was no more direct interaction between Lagos and the reporters. When the curtains were drawn closed again, the room was silent for several minutes as witnesses waited for the guards to escort them out. Lagos, hands on his knees, leaned down, shook his head, and sighed.
As Corbett later pointed out, the crime’s victim, infant Elias, had also been Lagos’s nephew.
During his trial, Johnson testified that he hit and suffocated his son because he hated his wife and didn’t want to be near her. He said in his testimony that he didn’t want to worry about his wife’s threats of putting him in jail for alimony or child support.
The child was found unresponsive on a couch where Christopher Johnson had fallen asleep. According to court records, Johnson told Atmore police that he earlier had tried to get the baby to stop crying by placing his hand over Elias’ mouth and by sticking his fingers down the child’s throat.
Prosecutors presented medical testimony that the baby had numerous injuries and had suffered three hard blows to his forehead.
Johnson represented himself during part of the trial. After he was sentenced to death, he refused to pursue appeals in his case, and filed court papers in May saying he didn’t want anyone to go to court on his behalf.
For breakfast Thursday, his final day, Johnson had eggs, grits, and biscuits, then skipped lunch in lieu of a Thursday dinner.
From food available in the prison cafeteria, said Corbett, Johnson chose for his final meal a turkey bologna sandwich with tomatoes and cheese, french fries, and an orange drink.
In a holding cell near the execution chamber, Johnson had extended visiting hours for the day, joined by Lagos, according to Corbett.
From a vending machine in the area, said Corbett, Johnson got a Reese’s Cup, pretzels, and grape Sunkist drink.
Since 2002, when lethal injection replaced electrocution as the mode of execution in Alabama, said Corbett, 30 inmates have been executed in that manner. Johnson became the 31st.
Prior to Johnson, there had been five executions at Holman in 2011, said Corbett.