Witness: Inmate hinted violence

The Baltimore Sun

Just five days before twice-convicted killer Kevin G. Johns Jr. is accused of strangling to death a fellow inmate on a prison bus, he told a psychologist at Baltimore's maximum-security prison that he was struggling with an "evil force" and that he might want to discontinue his therapy to protect the therapist, a forensic psychiatrist testified for the defense yesterday.

"I like you. I don't want to hurt you. But I don't know what this thing can do," Dr. David A. Williamson quoted Johns as telling the psychologist Jan. 27, 2005.

Although state prison system officials removed the psychologist from Johns' case to protect her, they made no arrangements to isolate him from his fellow inmates, including when he and 35 other men boarded a prison bus in Hagerstown in the pre-dawn darkness of Feb. 2, 2005, for the 75-mile trip to Supermax.

The testimony came on the fifth day of Johns' capital murder trial in the death of Philip E. Parker Jr., a 20-year-old inmate who was killed aboard that prison bus.

Johns, 25, has pleaded not guilty and not criminally responsible by reason of insanity in the prison bus case.

Williamson was the only witness to testify yesterday as defense lawyers focused their case on evidence regarding Johns' mental health and the psychiatric disorders that, they argue, leave him incapable of controlling himself. The doctor spent more than five hours on the witness stand as he detailed the defendant's history of institutionalization before his first arrest for murder.

Williamson also described the various psychiatric diagnoses and prescribed medications detailed in Johns' prison records since he was first incarcerated - in February 2002 - for killing his uncle.

He testified that in January 2005 - just 16 days before the prison bus killing - a physician at Baltimore's Supermax prison ordered that Johns be transferred to the state prison system's psychiatric facility because his behavior in an isolation cell had grown increasingly unstable. Johns had spent several days on suicide watch, where correctional officers who checked on him every 15 minutes found him standing by the cell door and talking to himself throughout the night, Williamson testified.

But on Jan. 18, 2005, the morning after a doctor recommended the transfer to the Patuxent Institution, a psychologist at Supermax decided that Johns was to remain at the Baltimore prison and be returned to his regular cell, the witness testified.

Asked whether a medical doctor's order should override a psychologist's determination, Williamson answered, "Absolutely."

The issue of Johns' mental health is pivotal as Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr., who was assigned the case after the defense requested a venue change from Baltimore County, weighs the defendant's criminal responsibility in the killing.

Williamson said that Johns suffers from a schizo-affective disorder that creates wild mood swings and psychotic symptoms in a rapid cycle and which he characterized as "one of the most serious and malignant psychiatric disorders."

Doctors, however, at the state's maximum-security, forensic psychiatric hospital diagnosed Johns with "malingering" - the fabrication or exaggeration of symptoms of a mental disorder.

On cross examination, Williamson acknowledged that it might make sense for a person to exaggerate or mimic psychotic symptoms if he were trying to be transferred to a psychiatric institution.

When the doctor added that he didn't know what might be gained from faking such a disorder, Baltimore County prosecutor S. Ann Brobst asked, "Can that be a gain? Being stuck in a psychiatric hospital? Instead of being stuck in [Supermax]?"

Williamson said many symptoms were documented long before Johns would have a motive to fake them or would be difficult to fake.

"To stay awake for two days straight and talk nonstop," Williamson told the judge, "I don't know how you malinger that."


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