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The violent life of Edward Muhammad Johnson, suspect in a Stillwater prison guard’s death


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The son of two Chicago police officers, Edward Muhammad Johnson was 12 years old when he witnessed his father shoot his mother six times before turning the gun on himself.
Decades later, he is suspected of attacking and killing a corrections officer Wednesday in a Minnesota prison. At 42 years of age, he was already imprisoned in the 2002 murder of his girlfriend.
On Thursday authorities officially named Johnson as the suspect who killed corrections officer Joseph Gomm at the Stillwater state prison.
In a 2005 column in the Pioneer Press, Ruben Rosario wrote about Edward Muhammad and his 8-year old sister, Zakiyyah, witnessing the horrific execution of their mother, a granddaughter of the late Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad.
“The boy would later describe to a detective ‘how his mother’s head bounced with each shot,’ veteran journalist Steve Bogira wrote in a 1989 Chicago Reader article on the murder-suicide,” Rosario wrote. “The kids sought refuge at a neighbor’s home. They were later taken in and raised by an aunt in the Twin Cities.”
Zakiyyah Johnson said then she was convinced that the childhood tragedy had a profound effect on her brother.
“You would have to ask him, but how could it not have?” she said. “It is like history happening again.”
On Thursday, Zakiyyah Johnson told the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune: “I’m sorry for the loss of the corrections officer and the grief that his family is feeling. If this was not a case of self-defense, then I’m sorry. My whole family and I grieve for them.”
Fourteen years after his parents’ murder-suicide, Edward Muhammad Johnson stabbed Brooke Elizabeth Thompson to death in his Bloomington apartment, where she was staying. Thompson’s 5-year-old daughter was inside and heard the deadly Aug. 14, 2002, assault from another room.
Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and had been serving a 29-year prison term at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater.
He has assaulted someone guarding him before.
While in custody at the Hennepin County jail following Thompson’s death, Johnson punched a detention deputy in the eye. The deputy had instructed Johnson to stay away from an area within the jail, according to court documents. The deputy suffered a cut under his left eye.
Johnson pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault in that case and was sentenced to 13 months in prison.
Incarcerated at Stillwater since 2003, Johnson was scheduled to be released on Dec. 12, 2022.
Johnson’s disciplinary record at Stillwater is “significant,” Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy said. Johnson spent about 1,700 days in segregation, including a 540-day stint after a “fight,” but he has not been in segregation since 2016.
“He has had numerous discipline items,” Roy said. “He has not been an exemplary inmate, but he has recently come around.”
In 2004, Johnson lost his right eye after he he was stabbed by a fellow inmate during a fight at the prison.
Johnson sued the Minnesota Department of Corrections afterward. Although a jury awarded him $500,000 following a civil trial in state court, state law allowed Johnson to collect only about $300,000, said Jordan Kushner, the attorney who represented Johnson in the case.
Shortly thereafter, Johnson had to hand over a significant portion of the funds to Thompson’s family after a settlement was reached in a wrongful death suit they’d filed against him, Kushner said.
The Minneapolis attorney recalled Johnson conducting himself “like a very rational, intelligent person” throughout his civil trial.
“I don’t think anyone would have watched him and predicted this would happen, and I don’t even know what happened,” Kushner said of the allegations facing his former client.
“I certainly feel very badly about what happened to this guard, but I wouldn’t rush to judgment without having all the information,” he said. “I believe in the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty.”
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