Sat, Oct 21, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Prisoner commits suicide just before lethal injection


A convicted killer facing lethal injection committed suicide by slitting his throat and arm with a blade and leaving a message written in his own blood 15 hours before his scheduled execution.

Michael Dewayne Johnson, 29, was found on Thursday in a pool of blood by officers making routine checks on him, authorities said.

Johnson apparently scrawled words in blood on the wall of his cell, but prison officials would not say what he wrote.

Johnson had been set to die for the 1995 slaying of Jeff Wetterman, 27, gunned down at his family-run gasoline station and convenience store near Waco.

Prison system spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said that 15 minutes before Johnson was discovered, he was talking to the staff and awaiting breakfast, and gave no indication he was contemplating suicide.

He used a sharp piece of metal attached to what looked like a wooden Popsicle stick, Lyons said.

It was unclear if the cutting edge was a razor blade or a sharpened piece of metal, or where he got it, authorities said. Some inmates are allowed to check out a razor blade to shave but must return it to a guard when they are finished, Lyons said.

Besides the routine 15-minute checks that begin for inmates 36 hours before their execution, officers on death row in Texas routinely search the prisoner's cell every 72 hours for contraband.

Johnson's appeal was before the US Supreme Court, which rejected a plea from him last week.

His lawyer, Greg White, said he had seen no indication that the condemned man was despondent.

"I've never seen him not in good spirits,'" White said. "I'm not trained in those things, but just from a common person's standpoint, we just never had conversation that he was near the end and `I'm doomed' and any of that kind of stuff."

Johnson, who was 18 at the time of the slaying, insisted it was a companion, David Vest, who had gunned down Wetterman as the pair, driving a stolen car, fled the convenience store because they did not have the US$24 to pay for their gas.

Vest blamed the shooting on Johnson, received an eight-year prison sentence in a plea bargain and testified against his friend. Vest is now free.

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