The prisoner charged with murdering a Stillwater correctional officer last year has been found competent to stand trial.
Edward M. Johnson’s ability to understand and participate in the criminal case against him had been at question since last year, and he appeared possibly compromised when he refused to meet with a medical evaluator earlier this year.
At a hearing Friday in Washington County Court, a doctor found Johnson competent to stand trial for killing officer Joseph B. Gomm on July 18, 2018.
Johnson, 43, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of possession of dangerous weapons. He has pleaded not guilty in the case.
“They’re happy with today’s development,” attorney Mike Padden said of Gomm’s family. Padden is representing the family.
Johnson initially resisted cooperating with the mental health evaluation.
“With the assistance of correctional staff, I walked to the defendant’s cell area and spoke briefly with him through the door to introduce myself and see if he had any questions or wished to discuss the evaluation,” the doctor evaluating Johnson wrote to the court this past March. “He said immediately that he was refusing the evaluation because he felt that I had been given information I should not have been given, that would prevent me from being objective.”
The doctor said they did not interview Johnson.
Washington County Court Judge Ellen Maas wrote a letter the same month noting that she instructed the doctor to complete the evaluation without interviewing Johnson if necessary.
Virginia Murphrey, chief public defender of the Tenth Judicial District and one of Johnson’s attorneys, said her client eventually gave an interview to a medical evaluator.
The defense and prosecution agreed to the doctor’s findings Friday, she said, adding that Maas still has to officially issue a legal finding on the matter.
According to charges: Johnson was serving a nearly 29-year prison sentence for second-degree murder in the killing of his roommate when he killed Gomm. Johnson stabbed Gomm and bludgeoned him with a hammer, injuring his head, face and chest.
The charges did not specify a motive for Johnson’s actions.
Gomm had just celebrated 16 years on the job. His death was the first killing of an on-duty Minnesota prison guard.
Johnson’s long record of violence includes assaulting a deputy while awaiting trial in his previous murder case and a prison fight that caused him to lose one of his eyes.
Padden said Gomm’s family will seek a financial appropriation from the state during the next legislative session. If an appropriation is approved, he said, it will resolve any wrongful death claims against the state.
Gomm’s family attended Friday’s hearing. Johnson’s next court date is an omnibus hearing in February. No trial date has been set.
“They want an adjudication that [Johnson’s] guilty of the murder of their loved one,” Padden said.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708