S.C. Executes Man Despite Confession
Fri May 3, 9:51 PM ET

By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A man convicted of killing a state trooper during a 1985 traffic stop was executed by injection Friday despite a confession from a hitchhiker who was traveling with him.

   

In his final statement, Richard Johnson thanked those who tried to halt the execution and urged them to "keep up the fight against the death penalty."

Johnson, 39, was sentenced to die for the shooting death of Trooper Bruce Smalls on Interstate 95 in Jasper County, along the Georgia border.

The hitchhiker, Connie Sue Hess, originally testified that Johnson killed the officer. But years later, while being treated at a mental facility in Nebraska, she confessed to the slaying.

A jury never heard the admission, and that was the crux of most of Johnson's appeals and the rallying cry of those who lobbied for his life to be spared.

Johnson won a reprieve a day before his scheduled 1999 execution after his lawyers produced Hess' sworn confession. The state Supreme Court assigned a judge to decide whether her statement was credible.

That judge said Hess' testimony couldn't be believed because she had changed her story many times, prompting the court to allow Johnson's execution.

Johnson's appeals to Gov. Jim Hodges and the U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) were rejected.

The trooper's son and sister told the governor that Johnson should die. However, Smalls' mother, Thelma Blue, asked the governor to spare her son's killer.

"Killing Mr. Johnson if he's innocent would be an abomination," Blue wrote.

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