John Kevin Johnson, sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after a single juror's vote spared him from the gas chamber, yesterday received six more life sentences from a Prince George's County judge and other prison terms that will keep him behind bars at least 54 years for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl.
Three of the life sentences handed down by Circuit Judge Audrey E. Melbourne came after Johnson unexpectedly pleaded guilty yesterday to attempting to hire a hit man to kill three prosecution witnesses in the girl's murder case. The hit man turned out to be an undercover police officer.
Defense attorney Edward Camus said he plans to appeal the sentencing. Although he was glad that Johnson was given life instead of a death sentence on Wednesday, Camus said, "Enough is enough."
Johnson, a 27-year-old laborer from Accokeek, was convicted last month for the rape and murder of Arlene Flowers, a Southeast Washington girl who was abducted on her way home from a neighborhood store last February. Insurance statistical tables show Johnson could be expected to die before he would become eligible for parole, defense attorneys said.
Testimony by Johnson's family made him seem like "an affable country boy," Melbourne said yesterday before handing out her sentences. But she said she believed he had "some sort of inborn hatred of women.
"I suppose the more Arlene Flowers acted like a victim, the more macho it made you feel," Melbourne told Johnson. She noted that Johnson's family had testified that Johnson's father repeatedly beat his wife, sons and daughters. "The women in your family acted like victims," she said. "They took it all . . . . They took it all the time." This may help explain Johnson's behavior, she said.
How "ironic," Melbourne added, that it was a woman who saved Johnson's life by refusing to go along with other jurors in voting to send Johnson to the gas chamber. And how ironic, too, she said, that he was tried before a woman judge.
Melbourne told Johnson he was being sentenced for crimes that were "similar" to those committed by Jack Ronald Jones, who received two concurrent life sentences in Baltimore County last month for raping and murdering 22-year-old Stephanie Ann Roper, an art student from Prince George's.
The concurrent sentences given Jones and codefendant Jerry Lee Beatty led to considerable public outcry because both could be eligible for parole in 12 years.
Melbourne reminded Johnson certain circumstances were different in his own case--that he faced sentencing by a different judge in a different county. Furthermore, she said, Prince George's judges are following new sentence guidelines that recommend consecutive, rather than concurrent, life sentences in cases of rape and murder. Baltimore County judges, she noted, are not participating in the experimental guideline project.
"You may meet up with Mr. Beatty and Mr. Jones in prison," Melbourne told Johnson. "You may want to compare notes."
The Upper Marlboro courtroom was crowded with members of the Stephanie Roper Committee, who are lobbying for stiffer anticrime legislation and stronger death penalty laws. Stephanie Roper's mother, Roberta, was in the crowd.
Roberta Roper said after the sentencing she was pleased with Melbourne's decisions. "She did the best she could with what the law allows," Roper said. Two members of the Johnson jury have joined the Roper Committee, according to committee chairman Victor Pietkiewicz, as has Arlene Flowers' mother, Ada.
Johnson appeared emotionless, as he had throughout the trial, while Melbourne analyzed his crime. Earlier this week, while the jury debated for 15 hours whether or not to send him to the gas chamber and his attorneys nervously paced the courthouse corridors, sheriffs said Johnson slept in a small cell in the courthouse.
Melbourne told Johnson "It was you who broke the tension several times with your sense of humor . . . ." Referring to a private conference at the judge's bench, she said, "You really broke me up when you said you wanted to address the jury--from the Bahamas."
After the deadlocked jury failed to agree Wednesday on a death sentence for Johnson on his murder conviction, Melbourne was required by law to give him a life sentence. Yesterday's six additional life sentences were for other convictions related to the rape-murder, including three charges of solicitation (of a hit man) and incitement to murder. Johnson had been scheduled to be tried next month on those three charges, but early yesterday agreed to plead guilty.
According to prosecutor David Simpson, Johnson told fellow inmate Richard C. (Machine Gun) Harrington last April that he wanted to hire someone to kill the three principal prosecution witnesses. Harrington contacted county homicide detectives.
Harrington arranged for Johnson to meet Roland Sweitzer, an undercover detective using the name "Frank Zane." Describing himself as a professional hit man, Sweitzer met Johnson in the jail's visiting area, where Johnson signed over the title to a used car, and promised $2,500, if "Zane" would kill the three witnesses.
When Johnson was arrested for trying to hire the hit man, prosecutor Simpson said, he complained that "You just can't trust anybody nowadays." Harrington, who has a bullet in his liver and had served one year of an eight-year armed robbery sentence, has since been freed on active probation.
Morell Flowers, brother of Arlene Flowers, said "We were expecting the death penalty . . . . We'll just have to go along" with Melbourne's sentences.
"There have been a lot of hardships involved," he said. "We just hope that he won't have the chance to get back on the street. The same thing could happen again."