The capital trial of a twice-convicted killer accused of strangling a fellow inmate on a prison bus in 2005 was indefinitely postponed yesterday, giving defense attorneys more time to challenge prosecutors' intention to seek a death sentence.
Harford County Circuit Judge William O. Carr granted defense attorneys' request to postpone the July trial of Kevin G. Johns Jr. His decision came after the judge presiding over the case scheduled a hearing to consider pretrial motions in August - a month after the case had been scheduled to go to trial.
Defense attorneys have argued that prosecutors should not be able to seek a death sentence against Johns because, among other issues, of the decision late last year by Maryland's highest court to halt state executions until lethal injection procedures are redeveloped with the required layers of legislative oversight and public input.
Attorneys representing defendants charged in other capital cases have made similar arguments since the Court of Appeals issued its ruling in December in the case of death row inmate Vernon L. Evans Jr.
Prosecutors handling the Johns case have countered that until new execution procedures are drafted, the appropriate remedy is to postpone executions rather than "to usurp the prosecuting agency's authority to pursue the death penalty," according to court documents.
Johns, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in the February 2005 death of 20-year-old Philip E. Parker Jr. on a prison bus traveling from Hagerstown to the maximum-security prison in Baltimore known as Supermax.
A day before the killing, Johns was sentenced to life without parole for strangling his former cellmate in 2004. Before that, he was serving 35 years for killing his uncle in 2002.
Although the prison bus case is being prosecuted by Baltimore County, the hearings are being held in Harford County because Johns requested a venue change.