The Stillwater inmate accused in the killing of a Stillwater prison corrections officer last month made his first appearance Friday in Washington County District Court on first-degree murder charges as the slain man’s relatives looked on.
Edward M. Johnson, who was indicted earlier this week by a grand jury on charges of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree murder of a corrections officer, waived his right to a speedy trial in the July 18 killing of corrections officer Joseph Gomm.
The charges follow the intentional second-degree murder and second-degree assault counts filed against him two weeks ago.
Johnson did not enter a plea Friday. He was attentive and responsive to Judge Ellen Maas but stayed mostly quiet, occasionally leaning over to consult with his attorney, Laurel O’Rourke. He was not wearing a patch to cover where he lost an eye in a prison fight in 2004.
Johnson, who was moved from Stillwater to the more restrictive Oak Park Heights prison after the killing, is scheduled to next appear in court Nov. 2.
Assistant County Attorney Nicholas Hydukovich would not comment on the grand jury indictment, but he said the prosecution believes it has a “strong case” on all three counts.
Mike Padden, an attorney retained by Gomm’s family, said they had not yet decided whether to file a wrongful-death lawsuit. That decision, he said, will not be made until after the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension completes its investigation and Johnson’s case is concluded.
A trial date has not been set but likely will would be in March or April if it is necessary, Padden said.
Gomm, 45, of Blaine, was bludgeoned with a hammer and stabbed in the industrial building at Stillwater prison. He suffered head injuries and chest wounds, according to the initial charges.
Two of Gomm’s sisters, Audrey Cone and Angie Wood, attended Johnson’s court appearance with their husbands. They nodded and dabbed tears as Padden read a statement to reporters.
Gomm, Padden said, “was extremely worried about workplace safety at Stillwater prison and said this to his family and friends, and I quote: ‘It’s going to take one of us to die before any changes become reality.’ ”
Padden continued: “We think that says a lot. In essence, Joe was a sitting duck, and he knew it.”
Gomm missed out on a lot of family outings for fear of running into ex-inmates in public, Cone said.
“He was scared, he was nervous,” she said. “He would tell me every day that he [went] to work, there was a chance he wouldn’t come home.”
Johnson has a long history of violence. At the time of Gomm’s death, he was serving a 29-year term for fatally stabbing his 22-year-old roommate, Brooke Thompson, in Bloomington in 2002.
Later that year, while in the Hennepin County jail during his trial, Johnson assaulted a deputy and pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault.
He was to have been released from prison in late 2022 and serve the balance of his term on supervised release. If convicted of first-degree murder in Gomm’s death, he will remain in prison for life without the possibility of parole.
In prison, Johnson has racked up at least 1,695 days in segregation for numerous offenses, including 540 days in connection with a prison fight in July 2004, authorities said.
Johnson was most recently sentenced to segregation in June 2016. Since then, he had demonstrated “relatively good behavior” and been allowed to work in the prison industrial building, said Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy.
The enhanced charges come in the same week that two others serving long sentences at Oak Park Heights were charged in Washington County with felonies in connection with violent attacks on corrections officers.