The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that a mentally retarded man from Pulaski County will not face the death penalty in a Camden County killing.
The Court announced the decision on Jan. 10 in the case of Alis Ben Johns, 45.
Johns is currently serving a life sentence without parole in the 1996 murder of Thomas Stewart, 31, Dixon. After that murder Johns eluded authorities for six months and allegedly committed more crimes, including the killing of Newton County resident Wilma Bragg, to which he later pleaded guilty.
In 2001, state prosecutors charged Johns with the murder of Leonard A. Voyles who lived in the Richland area in Camden County and were seeking the death penalty in that case.
Johns filed a postconviction motion for relief from his first-degree murder conviction and death sentence in Pulaski County. After finding that he is mentally retarded, a Pulaski County court changed Johns’ sentence in the Stewart murder from death to life in prison.
Jones then sought to prohibit the state, which is prosecuting him for first-degree murder in Camden County, from seeking the death penalty in that case.
After hearing arguments last month, the State Supreme Court ruled that “the state is bound by the earlier judgment of mental retardation” and cannot seek the death penalty against Johns.
According to the decision summary, “The motion court determined that Johns is not eligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), and section 565.030, RSMo 2000, because he is mentally retarded. The state did not appeal that decision, which now is final.”
“Because collateral estoppel applies here, the state is bound by the Pulaski County judgment finding that Johns is mentally retarded and, therefore, is prohibited from seeking the death penalty in the Camden County case. A writ of prohibition is appropriate. Regardless of whether the prosecutor might waive the death penalty or the jury might not impose it, the Camden County trial court lacks the authority to act to treat the case as one in which the death penalty is sought.”