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Father of slain prisoner takes the stand

The father of a Baltimore man who was killed by a fellow prisoner while they were being transported by bus in February 2005 spoke of regrets and missed opportunities Monday in his negligence suit against the state.

Philip E. Parker Sr., 47, tearfully told a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury that he lamented missing years with his oldest son after injuries he suffered in forklift accident led to dependence on pain pills and other drugs.

Parker’s voice trembled from the moment he took the stand and he broke down when he described the mistakes he had made.

“After I was hurt, because of the problems I was having with drugs, other than holidays I basically had to stay away,” Parker said. “I thought I was taking from him more than I was giving him. I loved him to death.”

He testified Monday that he got clean of drugs shortly before his son’s prison term and the two were able to build a rapport at race tracks and car shows over their shared love of hot rods.

Anger at trial

Parker and his children’s mother, Melissa Rodriguez, are suing the state and the corrections officers for failing to prevent Kevin G. Johns from attacking their son and for allegedly failing to give him CPR as he lay dying on the floor of the prison bus.

At the time he was killed, Philip Parker Jr., 20, was serving 3½ years in prison for robbing two people with a broken pellet gun.

Johns, who had two previous murder convictions, was found guilty but not criminally responsible for killing Parker by cutting him with a razor blade and strangling him during a bus ride with 34 other prisoners from Western Maryland to Baltimore’s “Supermax” prison. Johns committed suicide in prison in 2009.

During his testimony Monday, the elder Parker described his anger when Johns, during his criminal trial, appeared to be “grinning at and taunting” Rodriguez. Parker said he wanted to jump over the bench and “go after” Johns, but instead hurled a walking cane in his direction.

“I was just thinking about how senseless it was,” Parker said. “I was never going to see [my son] again — never get a chance to right the wrongs.”

‘Dropped the ball’

On cross-examination, the defense chipped away at the notion that Parker and his son were close, establishing that he didn’t know his son had regular seizures and a severe fish allergy. Assistant Attorney General Stephanie Lane-Weber also asked Parker if he was aware that his son had referred to him derisively in a letter to Rodriguez.

“He was a kid,” Parker said. “I dropped the ball when he was younger and he had some resentment toward me for that. He still loved me to death.”

Parker and Rodriguez, who have three other children together, filed their suit in May 2006. It was moved to federal court shortly thereafter to address constitutional claims. The federal court granted the defense’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that “neither the officers’ failure to protect Parker from Johns’s attack nor their limited treatment of Parker’s injuries” violated Eighth Amendment rights that bar deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.

The suit was returned to the city circuit court for trial on the state-law claims.

The trial began last week and may wrap up late this week. Rodriguez and Parker are seeking $21 million plus punitive damages.

“I want to give a better life to my other boys,” Parker said through tears. “And I don’t want anybody else to sit here and feel the way I feel.”