A Montgomery County judge has released a quadriplegic drug offender after the first year of a five-year prison sentence, complaining that Maryland corrections officials have failed to teach the paralyzed inmate a job skill, and saying that further incarceration would be pointless.
Circuit Court Judge Paul H. Weinstein, who ordered the release of Gary Lee Johnson on Monday, said he sentenced Johnson to prison last year specifically so that Johnson, 34, could learn a trade.
But Weinstein said officials at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, where Johnson was assigned, were unable to provide adequate vocational training for him.
Most inmates who use wheelchairs are assigned to Roxbury because the building's design makes mobility easier, according to Beverly Marable, a spokeswoman for the state's Division of Corrections. She said no one was available in the division's health care services office to discuss programs for paralyzed inmates.
She could not say how many paraplegics are serving time in state prisons. Weinstein said Johnson, of Rockville, was the system's only quadriplegic. He became paralyzed from the neck down 15 years ago after diving into shallow water and severing his spinal cord, the judge said.
Acting on a petition filed by Johnson's lawyer, Darah Kehnemuyi, Weinstein suspended the remainder of the five-year sentence. But he said Johnson, who has been convicted twice of drug offenses, would be returned to prison if convicted a third time.
Johnson was arrested on his second offense for making his apartment available to drug dealers and was charged in April 1986 with conspiring to sell the hallucinogenic drug PCP. Weinstein sentenced him to a five-year term last December.
The judge said he discussed Johnson's situation several times in recent months with Assistant State's Attorney Marc Hall, who objected to Johnson's release on Monday, noting that Johnson would have become eligible for parole next summer.
"But he didn't object too strenuously," the judge said.
State's Attorney Andrew Sonner said he had no reaction to Weinstein's decision.