The mother of convicted rapist and murderer John Kevin Johnson yesterday pleaded for her son's life before the Prince George's County jury that must decide whether or not to send him to the Maryland gas chamber.
"I don't feel the death penalty is the punishment -- that will be by God, or someone," Dolores M. Johnson told the jury. "You got the wrong person that really did the trigger-work."
If her son is put to death, she said, "I think I'd like to go too. I mean, there's not much justice in this world . . . there's too many open spots in the case."
Dolores Johnson's efforts to persuade the jury to spare her son came at a time when public attention in Maryland is focused on decisions by juries and judges in rape and murder cases. The Johnson case is being watched closely by members of the Stephanie Roper Committee, which vigorously protested concurrent life sentences given the two men convicted of raping and murdering Stephanie Roper, a 22-year-old student from Prince George's.
Members of the committee, particularly upset that Roper's slayers, who escaped the death penalty, could be paroled after 12 years and 9 months, are working to get legislation passed in the coming session to toughen sentencing laws in Maryland.
Johnson, 26, a laborer from Acokeek, was found guilty last month of eight offenses, including the first-degree murder, kidnaping and rape of Arlene Flowers, a 13-year-old District girl whose body was found in a southern Prince George's creek last March.
The jury, which is the same one that convicted Johnson of those crimes, must now weigh a list of mitigating and aggravating circumstances in deciding whether to send him to jail for life or to the gas chamber. Defense and prosecuting attorneys are expected to sum up their arguments tomorrow morning, and then send the case to the jury.
So far, the testimony heard by the sentencing jury has centered largely on Johnson's history. Defense attorneys Edward Camus and Darlene Perry have called several witnesses who have known the defendant since he was a child.
Family members and friends of both the defendant and the victim, including her identical twin sister Darlene, watched the case throughout the week, sitting on opposite sides of the courtroom.
Johnson's relatives and friends testified that Johnson is not a violent person, and that no good would be served by putting him to death. Yesterday morning, Johnson's sister, Victoria M. Johnson, 14, showed jurors three Oriental dolls her brother had sent her, her sisters and her mother while he was serving in the Air Force. "I don't think they should send him to the gas chamber," she said. She added he should be sent to jail "until he has learned."
Friday, Melvin Johnson showed the jury sports trophies his brother had won.
"He should be punished," Melvin Johnson said, "but I don't feel that death is the sentence he should have."
When the family of the victim took the stand last Tuesday, they told jurors that Arlene Flower's death continues to haunt them.
Morell Flowers, the girl's older brother, said he is troubled by guilt because he had asked his sister to go to the store the night she was abducted and killed.
Ada Flowers, the victim's mother, said she has been a "nervous wreck" since her daughter's murder. "She wanted to take care of me when I get old, buy me a home. She's not around to do that any more," she said.
The victim's twin sister, Darlene Flowers, testified that she had dreams in which her sister returned to her, only to wake up and see her sister's empty bed.
Assistant state's attorney David Simpson has called a series of police officers to the stand, who described Johnson's earlier convictions, including two assaults on women, one with a handgun, and a firearms possession conviction. Simpson argued that Johnson tried to hire an undercover police officer to kill three prosecution witnesses while awaiting trial in the Upper Marlboro detention center. Johnson currently faces charges on that allegation.