He said he wasn't afraid to die.

Donnie Johnson was executed Thursday evening for the brutal 1984 murder of his wife, Connie. Memphis investigators said he suffocated her by stuffing a 30-gallon trash bag down her throat just weeks before Christmas.

He was sent to death row, where he had waited more than three decades for his sentence to be carried out. During that time, Johnson claimed he had changed.

Eight years into his sentence, the convicted murderer was running a gospel radio show from his cell at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. 

WBIR talked to Johnson in 1992 about his salvation and his sentence.

He told listeners in his show that he wasn't afraid to die.

"Death is just a sleep. When I awake when Christ returns I'll go to heaven,” he said to reporter Chuck Denney.

He said he wanted to spread his Christianity to others, both inside and outside the prison.

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But despite saying he was prepared for his death, he also expressed his opinion on the death sentence.

"One life. Can you put a value on one life taken wrongly, no matter who takes it?" he said. "And it's compounded when the state takes it wrongly."

Tennessee went almost a decade without carrying out a single execution. That changed in 2018, when three men on death row were executed. Now it was Johnson's turn. 

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He asked Gov. Bill Lee to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole, based on the fact that he's now a Christian and not the "monster" he once was. His victim's daughter, who he adopted, asked the governor for mercy.

But the governor refused to intervene this week.

After Johnson ran out of options, he had his last meal on Thursday. He requested nothing special, just the same food that the other prisoners would receive.

He wrote letters to his family and his victim's family, asking for forgiveness.

The state carried out Johnson's death sentence, executing him by lethal injection. Right at the end, Johnson asked for forgiveness. His last words were "I commend my life into your hands. Thy will be done. In Jesus' name I pray, amen." Afterward, he sang two hymns before his voice trailed off, and observers said they could faintly hear him say 'no more dying here.'

Tennessee has five more executions scheduled for this year and next:

  • Stephen Michael West, convicted of the murder of Wanda Romines and the murder and rape of Sheila Romines in Union County in 1986, is set to be executed on Aug. 15.
  • Charles Walton Wright, Oct. 10, 2019, convicted of the murders of Gerald Mitchell and Douglas Alexander in Davidson County in 1984.
  • Lee Hall, aka Leroy Hall Jr., Dec. 5, 2019, convicted of the murder of Traci Crozier in Hamilton County in 1991.
  • Nicholas Todd Sutton, Feb. 20, 2020, convicted of the murder of Carl Estep in 1985 in Morgan County. He was earlier convicted of the murder of his grandmother.
  • Abu-Ali Abdur’ Rahman, formerly known as James Lee Jones, April 9, 2020, convicted of the murder of Patrick Daniels in 1986 in Davidson County.

Executions in Tennessee 

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