A federal court ruled on Friday that 19-year-old Corionsa "Khorry" Ramey cannot witness her father's execution, concluding that a Missouri law banning anyone under 21 from witnessing an execution does not violate the young woman's constitutional rights.
"I'm heartbroken that I won't be able to be with my dad in his last moments," Ramey said in an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) press release. "My dad is the most important person in my life. He has been there for me my whole life, even though he's been incarcerated."
Kevin Johnson, Ramey's father, is set to be executed on Tuesday for the 2005 murder of Kirkwood, Missouri, police officer William McEntee. While Johnson's attorneys have filed recent motions in an attempt to save his life—with one appeal alleging that racism contributed to his sentencing—the chance that Johnson will be spared is slim.
"The surviving victims of Johnson's crimes have waited long enough for justice, and every day longer that they must wait is a day they are denied the chance to finally make peace with their loss," the Missouri Attorney General's Office wrote in a petition to the Supreme Court, arguing against attempts to halt the execution.
Missouri law bars those under 21 from witnessing executions. The ACLU filed a motion on Ramey's behalf on November 21, arguing that the state law preventing the 19-year-old from witnessing her father's execution was "without any rational relationship to a legitimate governmental or penological interest" and "violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment, and the right of freedom of association under the First Amendment."
In response to the complaint, the state argued that there were four main reasons for the age restriction. First, the state claimed the law prevents young adults from witnessing death. Second, citing that teenagers are more likely to act out during proceedings, the law apparently maintains "the solemnity and decorum of the execution." Third, the law supposedly guarantees that those witnessing the execution are mature enough to comprehend the events. And fourth, the law prevents security threats from "impulsive and unpredictable" young adults.
On Friday, a federal judge ruled in favor of the state, finding that, while the law could cause emotional harm to Ramey, the harm was neither "irreparable" nor a violation of her constitutional rights. Further, the ruling found that Missouri held "a substantial interest in the sovereignty of its criminal law enforcement."
"We are extremely disappointed in the decision upholding this irrational and illogical law, which only serves to gratuitously punish Ms. Ramey," Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project and a lawyer for Ramey, said in the release. "Compounding her pain and grief by barring her from being with her father will do nothing to provide closure or healing to anyone else."
While perhaps constitutionally valid, Missouri's age restriction for execution witnesses is arbitrary, the primary effect of which is pointless cruelty toward death-row inmates and their families. Despite being a legal adult, this 19-year-old is being denied the ability to be with her father in his final moments. And ironically, Missouri believes that Johnson should be executed for a crime he committed at 19, yet is denying his 19-year-old daughter the ability to witness his execution by appealing to her supposed lack of maturity and responsibility.
"He is a good father, the only parent I have left," Ramey said. "He has worked very hard to rehabilitate himself in prison. I pray that Governor Parson will give my dad clemency."