Suspect's statements should be tossed out, lawyers argue

April 17, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN REPORTER

Lawyers representing a twice-convicted killer accused of strangling a fellow inmate on a prison bus in 2005 argued in court yesterday that their client's statements to a prison investigator should be tossed out because authorities ignored a defense attorney's directive not to question him.

It is unclear what Kevin G. Johns Jr. told an investigator 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 yesterday - but only the opening minutes of the interviews, during which the investigator explains Johns' rights.

During cross examination by defense attorney Harry J. Trainor Jr., the retired investigator acknowledged that she questioned Johns for a total of about three hours on two occasions after receiving a letter from a public defender who directed authorities not to interview the prisoner about the killing on the bus.

Brenda Galbraith, who retired in May as a lieutenant in the Maryland Department of Public Safety's internal investigations unit, testified that she questioned Johns at Supermax after a lawyer with the Maryland attorney general's office said she "had the right" to do so.

Johns referred to the lawyer's letter during the first of two taped interviews with Galbraith.

"My attorney didn't contact y'all?" Johns asked after remaining silent during a series of questions about the seating on the prison bus. He added, "'Cause he said, he told me that he told, um, nobody to come and talk to me. That's why I came over here to find out what was going on."

Prosecutor Allan J. Webster argued that the right to remain silent must be asserted by a suspect, not just an attorney claiming to represent one. As such, the prosecutor said, Johns' comments did not amount to an "unambiguous, unequivocal request for an attorney."

Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. said he will issue a ruling on the defense pretrial motions. The case is being tried by Baltimore County prosecutors but was transferred to Harford County after Johns requested a venue change.

If convicted of the February 2005 killing, Johns, 24, could face the death penalty. He is scheduled to go to trial in July.

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