Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Killer's third shot at freedom fleeting

Behaviour 'caused serious concerns'

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A notorious Winnipeg killer is back behind bars after blowing his third opportunity at freedom, the Winnipeg Free Press has learned.

Conrad Johnson, 35, was granted unescorted temporary absences in Winnipeg earlier this year despite ongoing concerns about his risk to the public. They were supposed to be for "personal development" and included both family and social time.

But parole documents obtained Friday show those privileges have now been revoked after Johnson raised a series of red flags while in the community.

"Your behaviour has caused serious concerns and resulted in negative consequences," the parole board wrote. "Your risk is undue."

Specific details about his conduct are not included in the most recent report and there is no indication of any new criminal charges. However, there is plenty of reference to Johnson's previous failed attempts at release in the city and following a similar pattern here.

Johnson was 17 when he gunned down 13-year-old Joseph "Beeper" Spence in 1995.

Johnson and two co-accused mistakenly believed Spence was a member of a rival gang. The killing made national headlines and sparked calls for tougher penalties for young offenders and tougher laws for gangs.

The slaying was also one of the first signs Winnipeg had a major street-gang problem.

Johnson pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced as an adult to life in prison with no parole eligibility for at least 10 years, which is the maximum sentence allowed by law. He reached that milestone in 2005.

He was first released on day parole in July 2006, but failed a drug test weeks later. He had what parole officials call "deteriorating" social behaviour, including throwing temper tantrums and lying.

However, Johnson was given several additional chances to succeed. Parole officials didn't revoke his release until February 2007 after several more failed drug tests and increasingly problematic behaviour.

While back behind bars, Johnson admitted his mistakes and blamed them on being given too much, too fast. The parole board agreed to give him a second shot at freedom in 2008.

Johnson fled from a halfway house in Winnipeg in July 2009 and spent 15 months on the run. Officers caught up with Johnson in October 2010, finding him in a city hotel room with several high-ranking gang members and a large quantity of marijuana. Johnson was not charged for the drugs but did get slapped with being unlawfully at large.

Johnson claimed he ran away because he wanted to see his newborn baby and knew he'd be in trouble for smoking pot. His day parole was cancelled.

Johnson spent a couple of years in remand custody before being returned to federal custody in December 2012. He enrolled in several substance-abuse programs and demonstrated model behaviour, the parole board wrote earlier this year.

As part of his release, Johnson was allowed no more than 72 hours of freedom per month. Johnson claimed he was going to use the time to "participate in community activities such as church services, cultural ceremonies, and shopping centres" during which he would be in the company of his common-law wife.

Johnson was required to submit to random drug tests and pat-down searches.

With his freedom now cancelled, Johnson faces an uncertain future behind bars.

He is free to reapply for temporary absences at any time but clearly has a troubling track record the parole board will use against him.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2013 A7

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