A Florida death row inmate convicted of killing a deputy and 2 others dies in prison, officials say

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida death row inmate convicted of killing a deputy and two other people more than 40 years ago has died in prison, officials said.

Paul Beasley Johnson, 74, died Saturday while receiving ongoing medical treatment while in the custody of the Union County Correctional Institution in north Florida, a Polk County Sheriff’s Office news release said. Officials didn’t provide details about Johnson’s illness.

“Three innocent people were violently and viciously murdered that night in 1981 during an all-night meth-induced crime spree, and I personally lost a good friend in Deputy Theron Burnham,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement. “Johnson was captured by SWAT during a manhunt, and I had the pleasure of being one of two deputies to take him to jail.”

Johnson was convicted in 1981 of three counts of first-degree murder and several other charges. In January of that year, Johnson shot and killed cabdriver William Evans and then set the victim’s vehicle on fire, officials said. Johnson then got a ride with a man and woman but fatally shot the man, Ray Beasley, while the woman fled to call for help. Burnham responded to the area and was shot during a confrontation with Johnson, authorities said.

“I am glad he (Johnson) hasn’t enjoyed a day of freedom since then, but the truth is, he should have been executed by the State a long time ago.” Judd said. “Ultimately though, there is one final judgement he has to face — and based on the kind of person he was, I doubt that goes well for him.”