- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) — A death-row inmate slit his throat with a makeshift knife early yesterday about 15 hours before he was scheduled to be executed, a prison official said.

Michael Dewayne Johnson, 29, was on death row for the 1995 killing of a convenience-store clerk near Waco, Texas.

Early yesterday, he slashed his throat and arm with a blade fashioned from a small piece of metal attached to a wooden stick, said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville.

Prison guards had been checking on Johnson every 15 minutes, as is customary, when they found him unresponsive in a pool of blood in his cell, Miss Lyons said. He was taken to a hospital in nearby Livingston, where he was pronounced dead, she said.

“At a 2:30 a.m. check, Mr. Johnson was talking to prison staff, and had just eaten breakfast,” Miss Lyons said. “He had made no indications that he was contemplating suicide, nor has a note or other explanation been found.”

Johnson’s execution had been scheduled for 6 p.m. yesterday. His last-minute appeal was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

His was at least the seventh suicide on death row in Texas.

In a recent prison interview, Johnson had denied fatally shooting 27-year-old Jeff Wetterman, who helped pump gas at the family store off Interstate 35 near Waco. Johnson blamed his companion, David Vest, for the killing.

“I never even saw the dude,” Johnson said. Vest “jumped back into the car, and we took off. He hollered: ‘Go! Go! Go!’”

Vest blamed the shooting on Johnson, received an eight-year prison term in a plea deal and testified against his friend. Vest is now free.

Johnson’s attorney, Greg White, argued in his client’s Supreme Court appeal that Vest had admitted to the shooting but that the confession was improperly suppressed, depriving Johnson of a fair trial.

Johnson would have been the 22nd Texas inmate executed this year. The state has 390 persons on death row.

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