washingtonpost.com  > Metro > The District

D.C. Jail Stay Ends in Death For Quadriplegic Md. Man

Care Provided by Hospital, Corrections Dept. in Question

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 1, 2004; Page B01

Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old Mitchellville man, was sent to jail in the District last week for 10 days for marijuana possession.

He never made it home.

Sandy Thomas and her great-nephew Anthony Smith are among several relatives and friends of Jonathan Magbie at a candlelight vigil outside the D.C. jail. (Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

_____D.C. Crime_____
Security Widened At IMF, World Bank (The Washington Post, Oct 1, 2004)
Gun Victim's Father Tries to Stem the Violence (The Washington Post, Sep 30, 2004)
House Votes to Repeal D.C. Gun Limits (The Washington Post, Sep 30, 2004)
More Stories
_____D.C. Government_____
D.C. Stadium Traffic Seen as Not All Bad (The Washington Post, Oct 1, 2004)
Security Widened At IMF, World Bank (The Washington Post, Oct 1, 2004)
For Baseball, Love at Third Sight (The Washington Post, Sep 30, 2004)
Minorities Driving Growth in D.C. Area (The Washington Post, Sep 30, 2004)
More Stories

Paralyzed as a child and unable to even breathe on his own, Magbie died last Friday after being shuttled between the D.C. jail complex and Greater Southeast Community Hospital.

At the center of the many questions surrounding his death is whether D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Department of Corrections did enough to ensure adequate care for the quadriplegic inmate.

An investigation is underway, but that is little solace to his family, which marched on the courthouse this week with signs accusing the judge of killing Magbie.

"I'm not saying that he shouldn't have been punished, because he did smoke the marijuana," his mother, Mary Scott, said yesterday, a day after burying her son. "I just don't think it should have cost him his life."

By the standards of D.C. Superior Court, the 10-day sentence rendered by Judge Judith E. Retchin was unusually punitive for a first-time offender such as Magbie. Along with his defense attorney, Boniface Cobbina, a pre-sentence report had recommended probation, and the U.S. attorney's office had not objected.

But Retchin rejected probation alone. A former federal prosecutor who became a Superior Court judge in 1992, Retchin is known to dispense stiff sentences.

Police, she pointed out, found a gun and cocaine in the vehicle in which Magbie was stopped in April 2003. And, despite pleading guilty to the marijuana charge, Magbie told pre-sentence investigators that he would continue using the drug, which he said made him feel better.

"Mr. Magbie, I'm not giving you straight probation," the judge said, according to a transcript of the Sept. 20 proceedings. "Although you did not plead guilty to having this gun, it is just unacceptable to be riding around in a car with a loaded gun in this city."

Details about Magbie's death were first reported by WJLA-TV (Channel 7). Magbie was struck by a drunk driver when he was 4 years old; he was paralyzed from the neck down, and his growth was stunted. Barely five feet tall and 120 pounds, he moved around on a motorized wheelchair that he operated with his chin.

For most everything else, from scratching an itch on his head to flushing his lungs of accumulated fluid, he had to rely on others. Along with his family, he had nursing care 20 hours a day.

"Jonathan was totally dependent," his mother said. "He couldn't do anything for himself."

Asked how her son was able to inhale marijuana, Scott said only that "he learned to do a lot of things."

CONTINUED    1 2    Next >

© 2004 The Washington Post Company