- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

BEL AIR, Md. - Criminal investigators illegally obtained a statement from a prison inmate charged with killing another inmate aboard a prison bus, the defendant’s attorney argued in court yesterday.

Within hours of Philip Parker Jr.’s death on Feb. 2, 2005, a public defender sent letters to police and prosecutors in jurisdictions through which the bus passed, warning authorities against questioning Kevin J. Johns, who is charged with first-degree murder in the case.

Prosecutors maintained Monday that Johns never asked for an attorney before or during nearly three hours of interviews on Feb. 8 and 9. They acknowledged the state’s receipt of Washington County Assistant Public Defender Stephen Musselman’s letter, but said it was no substitute for Johns’ assertion to his right to counsel.

“Under Maryland law, the right to an attorney is the defendant’s right,” not the lawyer’s, Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney Allan Wagner said. “He has to assert that right himself, and it has to be unequivocal and unambiguous.”

Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. said he would rule later in writing on a defense motion to throw out Johns’ statement.

The full contents of the statement weren’t divulged in court.

Johns, 24, formerly of Baltimore, is charged with one count of first-degree murder in the strangulation death of Parker, 20, aboard a Division of Correction bus carrying 36 inmates from Hagerstown to the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, also known as Supermax, in Baltimore. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty if Johns is convicted.

The Baltimore County case was moved to Harford County under a law granting automatic change of venue in death penalty cases.

In court yesterday, the judge heard snippets of two interviews that Brenda Galbraith, a now-retired investigator with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, conducted with Johns at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center on Feb. 8 and 9, 2005. Johns had no attorney present during either interview.

In the first interview, according to a transcript, Johns was read his Miranda rights and said he understood them. But after hearing a few questions, he asked Miss Galbraith, “My attorney didn’t contact y’all?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“‘Bout ‘cause, he said, he told me that he told, um, nobody to come and talk to me,” Johns said.

Miss Galbraith replied, “I mean, your attorney sent a letter saying he was representing you but, I mean. ”

“‘Cause he told me he talked, told ‘em not to,” Johns said.

“He told ‘em what, Kev?” Miss Galbraith asked. Then she changed the subject: “Oh, I brought your mail back today, too, so you should be getting your mail.”

The interview then continued for another 2 hours, she said.

Miss Galbraith said she had consulted with Michael O. Doyle, a Maryland assistant attorney general assigned to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. She said Mr. Doyle “said I had the right to go down there to interview him.”

Defense attorney Harry J. Trainor Jr., a private lawyer from Upper Marlboro appointed by the state Office of the Public Defender to represent Johns, argued that Mr. Musselman’s request should have been honored, especially after Johns mentioned it.

“Even if not by law,” Mr. Trainor said, “when Mr. Johns reconfirmed what his attorney said the questioning should have stopped at that point.”

Johns’ trial is set to begin July 16 in Harford County.

Two inmates testified at a hearing in January 2006 that Johns strangled Parker with the waist chain to which his wrists were shackled.

Three of the five correctional officers aboard the bus were fired.

Parker’s parents, Melissa Rodriguez and Philip E. Parker Sr., have claimed in a civil lawsuit that the correctional officers may have been too busy sleeping or watching a portable television to intervene.

A day before the slaying, Parker had testified on Johns’ behalf at Johns’ sentencing for the 2004 strangulation murder of Johns’ cellmate at the Maryland Correctional Training Center near Hagerstown. Johns told the sentencing judge that unless he received psychiatric treatment, he would kill again.

Johns is serving a life sentence for killing his cellmate, Armad Cloude, 16, and a 35-year sentence for choking and hacking his uncle Robert Purcell to death in Baltimore in 2002.

Parker was serving a 3-year sentence for attempting to rob two youths with a broken pellet gun.

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