Grave-digging suspect has history of mental illness


MCDOWELL COUNTY, N.C. -  Mental health officials found a Marion man incompetent to stand trial for reportedly digging up a baby’s grave last year.

Danny Dewayne Johnson, 24, of Hankins Road was charged on Monday, Sept. 26, 2011, with felony desecrating a grave and misdemeanor resisting, obstructing and delaying an officer.

Deputies responded to suspicious activity in Macedonia Baptist Church’s cemetery in Nebo that morning to find Johnson digging up the grave of a 2- or 3-month-old baby that died in the mid-90s, according to Capt. Shanon Smith of the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office.

He added that Johnson had already dug down to the casket before officers interrupted him. He wouldn’t respond to deputies’ commands, and there was a brief struggle before the suspect was taken into custody.

In a previous interview, Johnson’s grandfather, James Mills of Hankins Road, said his grandson had no connection to the child and suffers from schizophrenia.

Court officials ordered that Johnson undergo a mental evaluation, which was conducted in November 2011 at Central Regional Hospital in Butner.

Senior Psychologist Lavonne Fox observed and interviewed Johnson and reviewed records from McDowell County Jail administrators, the McDowell County School System, Copestone Hospital in Asheville, Broughton Hospital in Morganton, Grace Hospital in Morganton and Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory.

“Mr. Johnson frowned, smiled inappropriately at times, and exhibited a vacant stare (during the interview),” Fox’s report stated. “He made moaning noises and appeared sedated. He made almost no eye contact.”

Johnson told the psychologist he was experiencing auditory hallucinations but not visual ones and that he was not taking any medication at the time of his arrest.

According to the report, Johnson lives with his mother and maternal grandparents on Hankins Road, did not complete any grade past the eighth, has never been employed and acknowledged a history of alcohol and marijuana use beginning at age 12. He has previously been admitted for psychiatric conditions to Copestone, Broughton and Frye.

The document said that Capt. Asa McNeely of the Sheriff’s Office, who oversees the jail, reported that Johnson “appears to have two different personalities. At times he appears aggressive, while other times more passive.”

Jail Lt. Brenda Vaughn of the Sheriff’s Office reported that “Johnson presents as slow to respond at times; then appears normal. He had previously exhibited self injurious behavior by beating the cell door with his fists until they bled,” according to the court papers.

Records from Copestone Hospital in Asheville show he was admitted in July 2003, at age 15, because he was hearing “the sounds of multiple voices mumbling” and was seeing ghosts. He was admitted at Broughton Hospital from March to May 2004 and from May to June 2005, when he was 16 and 17, because he was seeing angels, voices were telling him to cut his arms and had displayed increasingly violent behavior toward others. Records from Grace Hospital state he was admitted in April 2006 due to paranoia. He had not been eating or drinking because he believed he was being poisoned. Johnson was a patient at Frye Regional Medical Center in September 2007. The documents stated he was paranoid and hallucinating and believed he was God.

“In my opinion, Mr. Johnson is not capable of proceeding (to trial) at this time due to ongoing symptoms of psychosis,” said Fox in her report.

Fox added that Johnson has responded effectively to treatment in the past and it is likely that he could proceed to trial after an extended period of it this time.