Ruling Allows Inmate to Be Kept in Prison

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A ruling by a state judge yesterday allows Maryland officials to keep in prison an inmate who was found guilty but not criminally responsible in the murder of a fellow prisoner, rather than commit him to the state's secure psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane.

Lawyers for the state said the decision by Harford County Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. means officials with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene can determine where to keep Kevin G. Johns Jr. Defense attorneys said they disagree with that interpretation and will challenge it.

In court papers filed Friday, health department officials said Johns, 24, is too dangerous to be held at the agency's secure facility, the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup. They said they were devising a plan to treat Johns at the Supermax prison in Baltimore, where he has been incarcerated since 2004, when he was sentenced to life in prison for murder, his second.

Defense attorneys argued in court papers that state law requires Johns, of Baltimore, to be transferred to Perkins, as are other defendants found not criminally responsible.

Yesterday, Plitt did not specify where Johns should go or how or where he should be treated. Plitt offered no opinion on whether Johns is too dangerous for Perkins. Instead, at the request of an assistant attorney general who filed court papers on behalf of Perkins officials, Plitt excised a handful of words from an order he issued June 9.

On that day, Plitt found Johns guilty in the 2005 murder of an inmate on a prison bus but found him not criminally responsible under Maryland's version of the insanity defense. Plitt originally ordered that Johns be committed to DHMH for "institutional, in-patient treatment at a DHMH facility," said Carroll L. McCabe, one of Johns's defense attorneys.

Yesterday, Plitt said the law states that not criminally responsible defendants shall be committed to DHMH, not that they must be treated at a state mental-health institution. He deleted from his June 9 order the words requiring that Johns be treated "at a DHMH facility."

State officials said that the modification means they can choose where to keep and treat Johns. "We believe the judge issued the correct order," said Assistant Attorney General Daniel Malone, who represented DHMH.

In an affidavit filed in court, Perkins chief executive Sheilah Davenport wrote that Perkins cannot house Johns while meeting the safety needs of Johns and other patients. DHMH officials and officials with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services are finalizing a plan to treat Johns while he remains in the custody of the prison system, Davenport wrote.

In an interview after the hearing, McCabe said state officials do not have the authority to choose where to house and treat Johns. Maryland law requires that defendants who are committed to the custody of DHMH be placed in an institutional, inpatient setting, she said.

"It is our position that a prison does not meet the definition of institution or an inpatient facility," McCabe said.

McCabe said the argument by state officials that Johns is too dangerous for Perkins "strains credulity."

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