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Death Row inmate wins hearing

FRANKFORT — A Death Row inmate will have a hearing to determine whether he had a secret deal with a judge before admitting to the 1989 murder of a Laundromat worker, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Donald H. Johnson contends he was coerced into pleading guilty to his role in the stabbing death of Helen Madden, 62, and thought he would get life in prison without parole for 25 years if he did so.

"We are happy that we won the claim we won," said David Harshaw, Johnson's attorney. "We are looking forward to a hearing."

Johnson, 41, pleaded guilty in June 1994 to murder in the death of Madden, who was found with fatal stab wounds at the laundry where she worked. She had been stabbed more than 20 times, sexually assaulted and left to die. Johnson was sentenced to death in 1997.

Johnson claims he and his attorneys had an off-the-record deal with Floyd County Judge John David Caudill that he would avoid execution if he pleaded guilty.

Caudill denies the allegation.