Outburst during murder trial

The Baltimore Sun

Prosecutors were playing a tape recording of twice-convicted killer Kevin G. Johns Jr.'s interview with detectives investigating the killing of an inmate aboard a prison bus when the victim's father stood up in court yesterday and hurled his cane like a spear at the defendant.

"What are you smiling at, you [expletive]?" Philip Parker Sr. shouted as a sheriff's deputy and two correctional officers quickly dove over Johns to shield him and several more officers and deputies herded the heavyset 43-year-old man out of the courtroom.

The outburst, in which no one was injured, occurred on the second day of the capital murder trial of Johns, 25, who is accused of strangling Philip E. Parker Jr. on a prison bus as it rumbled through the pre-dawn darkness from Hagerstown to Baltimore's maximum-security Supermax prison on Feb. 2, 2005.

Six days later, Johns confessed to strangling the 20-year-old inmate, telling the prison system's investigators that he never expected to "get away with it" but knew that the driver was not permitted to stop no matter what happened aboard the big blue bus that prison employees referred to as "Bluebird."

The playing of the audio tape of Johns' confession in court yesterday revealed new details about the grisly killing.

Johns told investigators that he strangled Parker with his arm - not the waist chain to which his wrists were cuffed - and cradled the younger inmate's head in his lap while trying to snap his neck to finish the job.

"I didn't need no waist chain. If I used my waist chain, a lot more would have been done than was done," he said on the tape, explaining that if he had been able to get the thick chain around Parker's neck he also would have been able to get out of his restraints altogether.

Analysts, however, found Parker's DNA on Johns' waist chain, according to a document submitted to the judge yesterday as evidence in the case.

Although difficult to understand at times, Johns' statements on the tape were so chilling that the lead investigator in the case mouthed "I'm sorry" toward the victim's mother, Melissa Rodriguez. The mother, who had the image of her son's face tattooed on her left shoulder on the first anniversary of his death and a broken heart tattooed in the center of her back on the second, wept and buried her face in her hands.

Through the playing of the tape, Johns continued looking around the courtroom, a half-smile playing at his lips. He sometimes rested his head on the top of the chair and occasionally shook his head while appearing to chuckle.

Brenda Galbraith, who was a lieutenant in the internal investigative unit of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in 2005 and the lead investigator in the bus killing case, had just asked Johns in the taped interview whether the victim made any noise as he was "choking him out" when Philip Parker Sr. became upset in court.

He stood up and shouted. And as he drew back his arm with the cane, Harford County sheriff's deputy Norman Turner, who was seated by the courtroom door to the hallway, jumped up and grabbed the father's arm. The cane whizzed past the head of Baltimore County prosecutor Allan Webster but landed short of Johns.

"He was laughing and smiling. He shouldn't be allowed to sit in here and torment us," Rodriguez, the victim's mother, tearfully said as deputies stood watch over Philip Parker Sr. as he wept in the hall.

"I begged him not to do something like this," she said of her son's father. "I just finished telling him, 'You do not do anything to jeopardize my son's case. This is for my son. This is not about you.' "

Sgt. Paul Cole, with the Harford County Sheriff's Office, said Parker would be charged with disorderly conduct and perhaps other offenses.

Johns is already serving 35 years and life in prison without parole for two separate murder convictions. He has pleaded not guilty and not criminally responsible by reason of insanity in the prison bus case.

Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr., who is hearing the case, must first decide whether Johns is guilty of murder and then whether he is criminally responsible. If Johns is found both guilty and criminally responsible, the defendant will then decide whether to be sentenced by the judge or a jury.

Prosecutors are seeking a death sentence.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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