Supermax Inmate Found Hanged

Inmate Kevin G. Johns, guilty of three killings, was found hanged.
Inmate Kevin G. Johns, guilty of three killings, was found hanged. (AP)
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By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A thrice-convicted killer whom Maryland officials considered too dangerous to be treated at the state's secure psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane died in an apparent suicide yesterday at the Supermax prison in Baltimore, corrections officials said.

Guards conducting a routine check found Kevin G. Johns, 25, in his cell and hanging from a bedsheet, said Harry J. Trainor Jr., one of Johns's defense attorneys. Guards were required to check on Johns every 15 minutes, Trainor said.

According to a statement by the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Johns's body was found about midnight. Emergency medical personnel were summoned, but efforts to revive Johns were unsuccessful. Paramedics pronounced Johns dead at the scene, the statement said.

An internal investigation is being conducted by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and Maryland State Police also are investigating, officials said. An autopsy by the state medical examiner's office is pending, officials said.

Johns, who has been incarcerated at the Supermax since 2004, was the subject of a legal battle over where he should be held and what level of treatment he should receive.

Last June, Harford County Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. issued a ruling that allowed state officials to keep Johns in the Supermax facility, rather than transferring him to the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, the state's secure psychiatric facility for the criminally insane.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene had filed court papers arguing that Johns was too dangerous to be held at Perkins. According to court papers, Johns had bipolar disorder and hallucinations.

Defense attorneys had argued that state law required that Johns, of Baltimore, be transferred to Perkins, because he was found not criminally responsible for the most recent killing he committed. Trainor said yesterday that a defense motion asking Plitt to reconsider his ruling was pending.

"Had Kevin received the care and treatment that the statute requires, I seriously doubt this would have happened," Trainor said.

State officials said they would not comment beyond the statement that was released.

Last June, state health and corrections officials said they were developing a plan to treat James in the prison system. But Sharon Weidenfeld, an investigator for Johns's defense team, said when she last visited Johns on Dec. 24, he was not on medication, which she called "vital to him staying alive."

Doctors and social workers visited Johns, who sometimes agreed to see them and sometimes did not. Johns said he had attempted suicide in the past few months by trying to hang himself but was saved by guards, Weidenfeld said.

Johns "knew more than anybody else that he needed treatment," Weidenfeld said. "He wanted it. He was looking forward to it."

Johns committed the first killing in 2002, when he strangled and cut an uncle who, according to court records, had sexually abused him. Johns was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

In 2004, Johns strangled a teenage cellmate at a state prison in Hagerstown. He was sentenced to life without parole for that killing and sent to the Supermax in Baltimore. In February 2005, Johns strangled Philip Parker Jr., 20, on a prison bus outside Baltimore as two corrections officers sat nearby.

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