Condemned Kentucky inmate seeks new trial

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Associated Press

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 11:01 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A death row inmate from eastern Kentucky has asked a federal judge to throw out is conviction and sentence, saying a judge erred in accepting his guilty plea.

In a petition filed in federal court in Lexington, 47-year-old Donald Herb Johnson says a judge in Floyd County didn't recount all the rights he'd be giving up by admitting to stabbing Helen Madden to death on Oct. 30, 1989. Johnson also claims he may not have been competent at the time to enter the plea.

Madden was attacked at the Bright and Clean Laundry in Hazard where she worked. Johnson entered the guilty plea on Oct. 1, 1997.

Johnson's attorneys claim their client wasn't properly medicated as recommended by a psychologist in 1994. The attorneys said Johnson abruptly ended interviews with the doctor several times. After being medicated, Johnson later said he stopped talking about Madden's death because "he had been told not to by 'the voices'."

"I would never have pled guilty if I had known I could defend against this case based on sanity. If I had known there was a psychologist willing to say I was insane, I would have insisted on going to trial," Johnson said in an affidavit.

Kentucky is currently under a court order suspending all executions in the state. A judge in Frankfort is planning to hold a trial about how the state evaluates the mental capacity of condemned inmates in the days leading up to an execution.

Kentucky has executed three people since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

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