- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

On Monday, three-time killer Kevin Johns was convicted of first-degree murder but found to be “not criminally responsible” for strangling to death a fellow inmate aboard a Maryland prison bus. The ruling by Harford County Circuit Court Judge Emory Plitt enables Johns to avoid the death penalty in the Feb. 2, 2005, slaying of Philip Parker. The ruling is just the latest example of Maryland’s dysfunctional criminal justice and corrections systems, and how judges seem to bend over backward to give violent offenders the benefit of the doubt.

Who is Kevin Johns? On Feb. 2, 2002, Johns, then 19, got into an argument with his uncle, Robert Percell, 34. Mr. Percell accused Johns of stealing money from him. Johns later told a psychiatric counselor, “The devil voice started just then,” the Baltimore Sun reported. So, Johns tried to strangle his uncle with a belt. When that failed, Johns used a saw and box cutter to kill his uncle. In March 2003, he pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison with a referral to the Patuxent Institution, a prison which focuses on psychiatric “treatment” for mentally ill inmates. But seven months later, Johns was transferred to the Maryland Correctional Training Center, a medium-security prison near Hagerstown.

In January 2004, Johns strangled his 16-year-old cellmate, Andre Cloude. On Feb. 1, 2005, while incarcerated in the Supermax prison in Baltimore, Johns appeared in Washington County Circuit Court in Hagerstown, where a judge sentenced him to life imprisonment for murdering Cloude. “This is a murder that the defendant says he’ll do again,” prosecutor Joseph Michael told the court that afternoon, adding: “I mean, who’s next?” It didn’t take long to find out. Early the next morning aboard the prison bus making the 75-mile trip from Hagerstown to Baltimore, Johns loosened his shackles and strangled fellow inmate Philip Parker, 20. Parker had testified on Johns’ behalf at his sentencing hearing the previous afternoon.

On Monday, Judge Plitt announced his verdict that Johns is “not criminally responsible” for murdering Parker. The ruling commits this serial killer to the custody of the Maryland Department of Mental Hygiene for more “treatment” at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital for the criminally insane. There’s a small problem: It’s hardly clear that Perkins has the ability to protect patients and staff from Kevin Johns. Judge Plitt has given the Department of Mental Hygiene and Department of Correction (in whose custody Johns has murdered two inmates) a June 23 deadline to devise a treatment plan for Johns. Perhaps the judge hopes the “voice” won’t speak to Johns before then.