TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A Florida death row inmate who won a stay of execution seven months ago died of apparent natural causes early Thursday, prison officials said.
David Johnston, 50, who was convicted of killing an elderly woman at her Orlando home in 1983, died about 3:40 a.m. at Florida State Prison in Starke, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff.
An autopsy has been scheduled to determine the cause of death.
"We cannot comment on any particular medical condition, medical treatment, or the medical status of inmate Johnston,'' Rackleff said, citing privacy laws.
The Florida Supreme Court issued a stay March 4, just five days before Johnston's scheduled execution, so a hearing could be held on the validity of a new IQ test that could have spared Johnston's life by showing he was mentally disabled.
After the hearing, though, a judge ruled he was not mentally disabled. Johnston's appeal of that decision was pending in the state Supreme Court when he died, leaving Florida's death row population at 390. He also had an appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Johnston was convicted of stabbing and strangling 4-year-old Mary Hammond. He had called police after the killing, identifying himself as "Martin White,'' and reported “Somebody killed my grandma.''
Hammond was not Johnston's grandmother, but court records indicated he was seen washing dishes in her apartment, near a demolition site where he'd been working, five days before the murder.
Then-Gov. Bob Martinez signed an initial death warrant in 1988, but the state Supreme Court also stayed that execution date. Gov. Charlie Crist signed a new death warrant last year.
The Florida justices issued another stay for DNA testing of Johnston's clothing and the victim's fingernail clippings because she apparently had scratched her attacker.
The tests showed no evidence of blood on Johnston's clothing but that material from the fingernail clippings was consistent with his DNA. The justices lifted that stay Jan. 21, and Crist set the March execution date.