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Johns' Feb. 8 statements barred from capital trial

The Baltimore Sun

Statements made by twice-convicted killer Kevin G. Johns during a three-hour interview with prison officials investigating the strangling death of another inmate in February 2005 cannot be offered as evidence at Johns' capital trial, a judge ruled this week.

Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. ordered that the statements from Johns' Feb. 8, 2005, interview with a lieutenant from the Department of Public Safety's internal investigation unit be suppressed because the prisoner's request for his attorney was not honored, according to the judge's written opinion in the case.

The judge found, however, that Johns' statements the next day -- on Feb. 9, 2005 -- can be used at trial because Johns asked to speak to the investigator on that occasion.

It is unclear what Johns, 24, told Lt. Brenda B. Galbraith about the strangling death of 20-year-old Philip E. Parker on a prison bus traveling from Hagerstown to the maximum-security prison in Baltimore known as Supermax.

Baltimore County prosecutors played portions of the two taped statements in court last month during a pre-trial hearing -- but only the opening minutes of the interviews, during which the investigator explains Johns' rights. Defense attorneys argued then that the contents of both interviews should be tossed because the prison investigator ignored a public defender's directive not to question Johns.

Plitt, who was assigned to hear the Baltimore County case in Harford County after the defense requested a venue change, wrote in his decision that Johns made "incriminating statements" in both of the interviews with Galbraith.

Johns' trial has been indefinitely postponed while defense attorneys challenge prosecutors' intention to seek a death sentence in the case.

Jennifer McMenamin

School board

Domestic-partner benefits debated

The Baltimore County school board could reconsider at its next meeting its decision to cut domestic-partner benefits from contracts that had been negotiated with the system's employee unions.

The school board's next meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 12.

School board President Donald L. Arnold said yesterday that he had received a packet of materials being considered for the meeting's agenda, but it was too early to know whether adding domestic-partner benefits to the already approved contracts will be on the table.

The agenda is generally set a week before the meeting by the board's president, vice president and the superintendent, he said.

In addition to concerns that the original contract language excluded opposite-sex partners, Arnold said board members wanted to know what other school systems are doing and an estimated cost for providing the benefits.

The school system's personnel department has been researching the cost, he said.

Cheryl Bost, president of the Baltimore County teachers union, said yesterday that she hopes the school board will reconsider the domestic-partner provision because union representatives agree it should be extended to opposite-sex partners.

"We've put that in writing," she said in a recent interview. "I'm hopeful they'll vote again on that issue."

If the issue is resolved at the board meeting, Bost said the unions could start the process of ratifying the contract as early as June 14. Ratification generally takes a little more than a week, she said.

"We're trying to get this done before the end of the school year, but we're getting tight on time," she said.

The last day of school is June 19.

At its May 22 meeting, the school board approved five-year contracts that include an average 4 percent raise for workers in the system's five unions, representing about 17,000 employees, including teachers, counselors and custodians. The contracts also call for nearly $13 million in health care cuts in the form of higher co-payments and related adjustments.

Gina Davis

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