Delaware inmate executed after hours of legal battles

After hours of court activity, a 28-year-old man has been put to death in Delaware for a man’s shooting death in Wilmington six years ago.

Shannon Johnson had given up his appeals and was ready to die. However, the Federal Public Defender intervened in the case, and twice on Thursday obtained a stay of Johnson’s execution. A federal appeals court had the final say, overturning a federal judge’s decision to put the execution on hold in order to hear further arguments about Johnson’s competency.

Several relatives of Cameron Hamlin witnessed the execution of his convicted killer Shannon Johnson (Mark Fowser for WHYY)

As the legal arguments were playing out, demonstrators showed their passions on both sides of the capital punishment issues as they carried picket signs outside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.

“We’re here out here for the victims. Somebody has to speak up for the victims,” Sherry Steller of Smyrna said.

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“Anytime that we kill somebody in the name of justice, it is not a good thing,” Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty member Kevin O’Connell said. “We’re hopeful this is going to end sometime soon.”

Several members of the media who were selected to witness the execution said Johnson mumbled when offered the opportunity to speak. According to the Department of Correction, Johnson said “loyalty is important. Without loyalty you have nothing. Death before dishonor.” Johnson also spoke some Arabic. The Department of Corrections released details of his final meal, chicken lo mein, and his final activities. Those included talking to his attorney, writing letters, and watching TV.

Witnesses said after his few words, Johnson remained silent as his breathing began to labor and he closed his eyes. He was pronounced dead at 2:55 a.m. Friday.

Johnson was found guilty of shooting Cameron Hamlin to death in Wilmington in 2006 as Hamlin sat in a car with Johnson’s ex-girlfriend. She also was shot, but survived.

“Now it’s time to focus on getting our lives back together, have some closure in our lives,” Cameron’s father Vandrick Hamlin said. “Because, it’s been a long road.”

Some demonstrators against capital punishment said it made no difference that Shannon Johnson was ready to die – they believe the death penalty is still wrong (Mark Fowser for NewsWorks)

The office of Governor Jack Markell (D-Del) released a statement shortly after the execution took place: “The State of Delaware this morning carried out the sentence imposed for Shannon Johnson’s brutal murder of Cameron Hamelin. Mr. Johnson’s death sentence was recommended unanimously by a jury, imposed by a judge, and reviewed thoroughly on appeal. Mr. Johnson’s decision to forgo further challenges to his sentence was extensively reviewed by the Superior Court, and the Third Circuit agreed tonight that it had “no reason to question the Delaware Superior Court’s conclusion” that Mr. Johnson voluntarily and competently made that decision. The Third Circuit’s decision put an end to further federal challenges to the sentence. Our thoughts tonight are with the Hamlin family, Lakeisha Truitt and her family, and all of those who have suffered from Mr. Johnson’s callous crimes. (May) God rest his soul.”

This was the second execution carried out in Delaware in the past nine months.

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