Death Row Suicide Under Investigation

The State Inspector General is investigating the apparent suicide of a Texas death row inmate at the Polunsky Prison Unit in east Texas early today. This inmate was to be executed tonight, as Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Officials at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice say 29 year old Michael Dewayne Johnson was found lying on the floor of his cell at the death row unit near Livingston at 2:45 this morning. Spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says Johnson was taken to a local hospital where he died about an hour later. Lyons says Johnson apparently took his own life.

,em>"It was determined that he used some sort of a home made weapon. It looks like either a razor, or some sort of metal, that he attached perhaps to something that would be akin to a popsicle stick, that he used to actually slice his jugular in his neck, and one of his arteries in his arm."

Lyons says death row inmates are kept in single-person cells, and those facing imminent execution are placed on "death watch," which means they're observed by prison staff every 15 minutes.

"Mister Johnson had actually been observed at 2:30 and in fact had spoken to the staff, and had just eaten breakfast, and then just fifteen minutes later he was found and had already inflicted the wound. It happened very quickly."

Lyons says Johnson had an appeal pending, but he was scheduled to be executed tonight for murdering a convenience store clerk during a gasoline theft in McClennan County in 1995. Lyons says the TDCJ's Office of Inspector General is investigating his apparent suicide. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.