- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

BALTIMORE — An inmate who killed his cellmate a year ago and warned a judge that he might kill again was indicted yesterday in the strangling of an inmate aboard a guarded prison bus.

A Baltimore County grand jury indicted Kevin G. Johns Jr., 22, on a single count of first-degree murder in the death of Philip Eugene Parker Jr., 20, the state’s attorney’s office said.

Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney S. Ann Brobst said she would seek the death penalty against Johns, a twice-convicted murderer who told a judge the day before Parker’s death that he would kill again unless he received psychiatric help. Miss Brobst said there would be no further indictments.

Melissa Rodriguez, Parker’s mother, said she had “a lot of trust and a lot of faith in Baltimore County, and I hope that this will never happen again and that justice is done. I still have a lot of questions that need to be answered, and Baltimore County hasn’t answered them. I hope the corrections system can.”

Prison officials have said Parker, who was serving 31/2 years for unarmed robbery and a weapons violation, was killed early Feb. 2 by one or more inmates aboard a bus carrying 35 prisoners in handcuffs and leg irons, plus five armed correctional officers. The bus was traveling from the state prison complex near Hagerstown to correctional institutions in the Baltimore area.

Parker had been in court in Hagerstown a day earlier, testifying for Johns about Johns’ mental instability. Parker was among several inmates called as defense witnesses at Johns’ sentencing for strangling a 16-year-old cellmate in January 2004.

Weeks later, the state fired three of the correctional officers who had been on the bus. A fourth officer was suspended for five days and a fifth was reprimanded, said the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Miss Rodriguez has said a prison chaplain told her that her son had been strangled from behind by a prisoner who was found later with blood on his wrists.

Division of Correction Commissioner Frank C. Sizer Jr. said yesterday that he couldn’t comment on how the killing could have occurred, citing an internal investigation.

The Baltimore Sun has reported that another inmate on the bus wrote to his family that Parker’s attacker managed to loosen his waist chain and slip it around Parker’s neck.

“It’s sad that the management of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is taking no responsibility for this,” said Ed Rothstein, a spokesman for the Maryland Association of Correctional and Security Employees, which represents two of the fired corrections officers. “They’re scapegoating these officers. These officers never knew that Johns needed to be segregated.”

Mr. Rothstein said both officers have filed appeals with the corrections department.

Mr. Sizer said he doesn’t know of any policy that would have required Johns to be separated from the rest of the inmates.

Although procedures have been tightened since Parker’s death, none of those changes would necessarily have prevented his murder, Mr. Sizer said.

“It was more of a staff failure,” he said.

Messages left with a public defense lawyer who prosecutors said represented Johns in past proceedings weren’t returned yesterday.

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