Johnson sought a reprieve, asserting that he wanted to donate a portion of his liver to his ailing sister, 48-year-old Deborah Otis, who was suffering from non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and was in need of a transplant. His reprieve was denied because most doctors believe that it is unethical to harvest organs after death by lethal injection, and because Johnson was not a suitable donor himself. Another possibility – though not in Indiana, where all organ recipients (except kidney recipients) are chosen by state law according to their places on a waiting list, on which list Johnson's sister herself did not appear – would have been a living partial organ donation prior to execution. The case for delaying execution probably was not helped by the fact that Johnson was infected with Hepatitis B himself, and that his liver was too large to be suitable for his sister. Patients in Indiana generally receive a liver after at least twenty days on a waiting list.
In a statement before his death, Johnson criticized the Parole Board for refusing his request.