Edward Earl Johnson

35 Years – Let it not be forgotten

14 Days in May

Updated 20 May 2022


Just after midnight on 20 May 1987, Edward Earl Johnson was executed in a Mississippi gas chamber.  He was an innocent man.  He was just 26 years old.  His lawyer was 27 year old Clive Stafford Smith.  Injustice was served at 12.06am when Edward was pronounced dead after a lethal dose of ZyklonB.

The Case

In 1987, Edward Earl Johnson was wrongfully executed for the 1979 murder of a US Marshall and the sexual assault of an elderly white woman. The prosecution case depended on a confession, which Johnson said was extracted from him at gunpoint by two white police officers.  In addition, Edward had an alibi. A woman had come forward saying she had been with him in a pool hall at the time of the murder, but was told by a white law enforcement officer to “go home and mind your own business.”

Johnson protested his innocence throughout his eight years on death row until his execution. His last words, as he was strapped into the chair, were, “Well, I guess no one’s going to call. OK, let’s get this over with.”

The Film

Edward’s final days were documented in a 1987 film, “14 Days in May”, available below or on BBC iPlayer or YouTube.  Clive has been hearing from those who watched the documentary and were moved and inspired by it.

If you’d like to add your comments to our memorial, please email info@3dc.org.uk

Remembering Edward Earl Johnson

“Remembering Edward Earl Johnson tonight at midnight 35 years after his murder. He would be 61 now if my maths is correct. I will never forget watching the BBC documentary having just turned 13 a month before. It’s a disgraceful case and shame on the USA”  Michael B

“I sit here as a 48 year old who can still vividly recall watching the film on BBC many years ago, probably when it first aired. It had a profound effect on me that has never left. I grew up in a left leaning liberal family that never shied away from discussing difficult topics and opposition to the Death Penalty was there throughout my childhood but this was my first exposure to it as an individual. It hit hard. I cried and the feeling of shame that we as Human Beings can treat our most vulnerable in such a way remains as strong now as then and I remain committed to my belief that obvious guilt deserves as much compassion as obvious innocence. I think it’s clear that Edward falls very much into the latter category and he has remained with me since.
14 Days In May was also my first encounter with you and your work which I have followed and supported since then. Your passion and commitment continues to inspire.”  Ben Etterley
“It was 1987, I was 14 and will never forget this documentary. I was into hip-hop, starting to recognise injustice (It was the year of Cry Freedom) and of course an impressionable teenager. Nothing had stirred me like this before. Edward’s courage, the dignity of his family, the sensitivity of those fighting for him, the frustration, the exhausting crumbs of hope and the casual acceptance of officials that the system was weighted against young men like Edward. And then he was gone. I was too cool to cry but I did afterwards, alone. I never thought quite the same of America after that. I ‘rapped’ along to Overlord X singing 14 Days in May -yes a rapper was moved to make a song about it too. I thought I could change the world, but I’ve settled for sharing Edward’s story to the next generation as I’m a teacher now. When I get a long slot I show it to my students as part of their civil rights unit, so Edward is not forgotten.” Amy King
“I’ve just seen your tweet about 14 Days in May.  When it came out, I was working for BBC Worldwide as a copywriter in the marketing department, and I was assigned to write the marketing brochure for the programme for foreign sales. It had such a profound effect on me and I still often think about. Edward Earl Johnson asking for prawns for his last meal as he’d never tried them broke my heart,  as well as when his family sang to him during their final visit. It actually brings tears to my eyes writing this. Before I saw it, I hadn’t really thought much about the death penalty – I was young and it wasn’t a UK issue, but it goes without saying that after seeing it and ever since I’ve been 100 per cent against it.  I think I still have a few copies of the original brochure BBC Worldwide produced for the programme, and if you would like one, I could send you a copy. I’ve followed your career from a distance ever since, and so admire what you do.” Alison Belsham