"I'M going to heaven."
With those chilling final words Ernest Lee Johnson became the first person executed in the state of Missouri in 2021 on Tuesday evening.
The triple killer, who murdered three shop workers with a claw hammer in 1994, had seen last-minute requests for a stay of execution denied.
He also expressed remorse for his actions and love for his family and friends.
In his last statement, Johnson said: "I am sorry and have remorse for what I do. I want to say that I love my family and friends, I am thankful of all that my lawyer has done for me.
"They made me feel love as if I was family to them, I love them all, for all the people that has prayed for me I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I love the Lord with all my heart and soul.
"If I am executed I know where I am going to heaven. Because I ask him to forgive me God everyone. Whit respected Ernest L Johnson (sic)."
'I'M READY FATHER'
But Johnson, whose final meal consisted of two cheeseburgers, two milkshakes, a large pizza and a side of onion rings, is not the only death row inmate to turn to religion and prayer for solace in his final moments.
In September last year Christopher Vialva, 40, uttered his final words "I'm ready, Father" as he was executed.
He was pronounced dead after receiving a lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Vialva was 19 years old when he shot dead Christian youth preachers Todd and Stacie Bagley before torching them in the trunk of their car in 1999 in Texas.
In his final statement, the killer asked God to comfort the families of his victims, asking for "healing their hearts with grace and love".
Since he was imprisoned, Vialva becamme a Messianic Jew and spent two years convincing prison staff to allow him to conduct weekly services.
'I HOPE YOU DIE'
Others took a more "ugly" approach with one reportedly telling a victim's family he "hoped they die".
Journalist Michelle Lyons, who witnessed almost 300 people be put to death, said: "We had two guys in one night, and the first had a really ugly statement where he was telling the victims' families, 'I hope y'all get in a crash and die on your way home.”
He also said: “You can kiss my ass,' and a whole bunch of stuff.”
Lyons explained: "It really stood out that night because it was so ugly, but then the second execution afterwards, the guy was so apologetic and was crying and telling the victim's family, 'I am so sorry I did this to you.'
"It was just such a crazy contrast to see in the space of 30 minutes, and it stuck with me.”
'TIME TO GET THIS PARTY STARTED'
James Lewis Jackson was executed in 2007 after the 1997 murder of his stepdaughters and their mom in Houston, Texas.
He reportedly told the warden to "murder" him shortly before the lethal injection and was smiling before his death.
Jackson added: “Thank you to my family. I love you. Each and every one of you.
“This is not the end, but the beginning of a new chapter for you and I, together forever. I’m ready to roll.
"Let’s get this party started.”
20 MINUTE SPEECH
Journalist Michelle said: "Most of them don't talk for very long – there was one execution that I witnessed [the 2000 execution of Gary Graham], who spoke for over 20 minutes.
"They don't allow that usually. Usually, the warden will allow them to talk for about two minutes."
Furthermore, a fellow final speech, delivered by Cameron Todd Willingham, saw a tirade directed at his ex-wife, including “every swear word you could imagine.”
Lyon recalled that warden signalled for the execution to begin while he continued hurling insults at her until he finally became silent.
However, there are some that do produce some heartfelt moments in their final minutes.
The former journalist said: "You do have some that would just do outlandish stuff.
“We had one guy that was telling jokes, we had another that was referencing a song by a Texas songwriter called 'The Road Goes On Forever And The Party Never Ends.”
'POTATO, POTATO, POTATO'
Robert Charles Towery was executed over the death of philanthropist Robert Jones who was injected with battery acid and strangled during a 1991 robbery of the his home.
In his final words before being put to death, Towery apologized to the victim’s family and friends, and to his own family.
He then spoke about the bad choices he had made in his life and concluded by saying, “I love my family. Potato, potato, potato."
That was thought to a a coded message to his nephew that everything was ok.
'HOW ABOUT THIS FOR A HEADLINE? FRENCH FRIES'
James French is said to have made a quip about his death and French fries in the days before his execution while speaking with a reporter.
His actual last words are reported to have been: "Everything's already been said."
But he had told the reporter: "How about this for a headline? French fries."
French was sent to death row after killing his fellow inmate in prison.
He had been jailed for life for the murder of a driver who picked him up hitchhiking.
BUNDY'S FINAL WORDS
Serial killer Ted Bundy's final words baffled some.
He is reported to have said "I’d like to give my love to my family and friends" in his final moments.
He was put to death in 1989 after being convicted of killing dozens of women.
News anchor John Wilson said the comment confused him, telling The Tampa Bay Times: "What friends?"
'I'D RATHER BE FISHING'
For others the moments before their execution offered a way to joke about the circumstances.
Killer Jimmy Glass was executed in 1987 after the murder of a couple on Christmas Eve.
The high school dropout grinned as he was strapped into the chair.
Asked if he had a final statement, he said, ″Yeah, I think I’d rather be fishing.″
'GOOD PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS SO SURE THEY'RE RIGHT'
But for some, their final words were more chilling.
Barbara Graham was sent to death row in 1955 for the killing of Mabel Monohan during a botched robbery.
She is said to have held her breath for 60 seconds in an attempt to avoid her death in the gas chamber.
Her last words were: "Good people are always so sure they're right."
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