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Should a Terminally Ill Prisoner Have to Die Behind Bars?

Montell Johnson was sent from California to Illinois to be executed. His sentence was commuted. Now he's dying from medical neglect.

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"It was like an agreement that he had to be killed," says Pearson, " … which just kind of makes your skin crawl."

The extradition agreement was signed by Illinois' Secretary of State George Ryan. Four years later, however, as governor of Illinois, Ryan famously emptied death row, commuting all death sentences to life without parole and pardoning four innocent prisoners. Already sick with MS, Johnson's sentence was commuted to 40 years. Despite the executive agreement with California, Johnson stayed where he was.

Why Illinois failed to keep up its end of the death pact is unclear.

"They either forgot, or they decided not to, or something," says Pearson. "Whatever they did, they violated the agreement … Gov. Ryan signed it, so he could not say he was ignorant of it. My guess is they just screwed up, and since Montell was still in prison, nobody made a big fuss about it."

Until now.

"They told me that they were going to send a plane to come get Montell," says Gloria, who, with the help of his attorneys, has requested a "compassionate clemency" for Johnson from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. " … We're just waiting to see what the governor does."

Last month, Hoyt wrote a letter to Schwarzenegger asking him to grant clemency to Johnson: "I personally feel, for several reasons, Mr. Johnson was 'underhandedly' kept in Illinois and brutalized by Illinois Dept. of Corrections, almost dying in Nov. 2007," she wrote. "Mr. Johnson has chronic progressive multiple sclerosis, weights 70 lb.., is almost completely paralyzed, cannot talk, has to be fed through a feeding tube, requires daily doctor visits and 24 x 7 skilled nursing care.

On Oct. 30, 2008, Illinois Gov. Blagojevich commuted the sentence/pardoned Mr. Johnson, and I am told, it had a lot to do with my constant support of Mr. Johnson's innocence in my daughter's murder. I am now appealing to you, Sir, please grant Montell Johnson clemency, so that he can go home and be with his family for the final few days he might have left to live. This would give me 'some' peace in my heart, that I have succeeded in reaping 'some' justice for my daughter after all these years.

"Montell Was Not Cared For Properly"

Gloria's first run-in with the health care provided by Illinois' Department of Corrections was in 1999, when her son was awaiting trial in a Macon County jail. She had attended a wedding reception in Grand Rapids, Mich., when she received word from her mother that Montell had fallen and been knocked unconscious. She drove to the Decatur, Ill., jail, only to be barred from visiting him. By the time she saw him, it was Tuesday. "I asked Montell what they gave him. He said, 'Tylenol.' "

In January 2001, Johnson was diagnosed with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis. By then, he was at Menard Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison that Gloria describes as "a death trap." As the illness took effect, he was transferred to different facilities, none of which were equipped to deal with his deteriorating health. Between 2001 and 2005, he was not seen by a neurologist.

By 2005, he could not stand, walk, bathe or dress himself. Despite this, he remained in the condemned unit at Menard, designated a "high escape risk." Eventually, he was transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center, where, in February 2006, he was diagnosed with dementia.

Finally, in April 2006, Johnson was transferred to Dixon Correctional Facility, supposedly, the best medical facility in the Illinois prison system.