- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

Maryland's moratorium on the death penalty should apply for current and future death-row inmates, such as the sniper suspects, if convicted, Prince George's County State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson said yesterday.
"I don't think you can say the moratorium is only for those [currently] on death row," Mr. Johnson, the Democratic nominee for county executive, said during a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
His Republican opponent is Prince George's County Council member Audrey Scott.
Mr. Johnson, the county's top prosecutor, said he doesn't think "the death penalty is available to apply in the state of Maryland in the case of the snipers," who are suspected of killing 10 persons and wounding three others during a three-week rampage in Maryland, Virginia and the District.
After meeting with The Times, Mr. Johnson announced that his office was filing attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges against suspects John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17. They were charged in the Oct. 7 wounding of a 13-year-old boy outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie the only sniper incident in Prince George's County.
Mr. Johnson said he has supported the death penalty as a "useful tool" in prosecuting cases and meting out justice, but added that he opposes its administration in the case of a minor.
He also noted that Maryland law forbids the execution of persons who committed crimes as a juvenile.
But the 52-year-old prosecutor said that someone who "lies in wait and shoots a child" should be subject to the death penalty.
Though the sniper shootings have claimed the most attention for the past few weeks, Mr. Johnson said he, as county executive, would focus on improving public schools.
"Our school system is overcrowded I mean literally busting at the seams," he said, estimating that $600 million is needed to build new schools, renovate old ones and increase teacher salaries.
He said he would propose some sort of tax increase to fund school construction and renovation, but would not recommend that property taxes be increased.
"Our property-tax burden is high enough," Mr. Johnson said.
What's more, he criticized how property taxes are collected, saying that the state of Maryland should not take a share of property-tax revenue and instead should let the local jurisdictions have all the funds to use as they see fit.
Mr. Johnson, a native of South Carolina with a business degree from Benedict College and a law degree from Howard University, said he is not opposed to charter schools but is leery of school vouchers, which often do not meet the total financial costs of education.
As state's attorney for the past eight years, Mr. Johnson has been chastised for his criticism of the county police department, which has weathered several brutality charges for which it is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. The prosecutor also has been criticized for failing to get a conviction in any of the seven police-misconduct cases he has taken to trial.
Mr. Johnson said his "anti-police" image is an unfair result of his trying to meet his goal of improving the police department. As county executive, he said he would "change the culture" of the police department its management, recruitment and disciplinary policies.
He also said he would promote more community policing by recognizing officers who excel in preventing crime through their consistent efforts in neighborhoods.

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