John Keith Calvin, a prisoner who maintained he was innocent in a 2002 murder in Kansas City, Kansas, died Wednesday of cancer, his attorneys said. He was 56.
Calvin sued the Kansas Department of Corrections in December, alleging that officials had not properly treated his colon cancer. In an emergency filing, his lawyers asked that he be moved to a hospital — a request that was denied.
In a statement, Calvin’s lawyers said his family was “devastated” to share that he died at the El Dorado Correctional Center, northeast of Wichita. His lawyers at the Midwest Innocence Project and the law firm Morgan Pilate said he was innocent.
“Everyone knew this, and a whole community fought for him,” they said. “John Calvin will have a long legacy, and his fight against injustice will continue.”
Calvin was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted robbery in the Dec. 12, 2002, killing of John Coates, who was gunned down in the 2700 block of Haskell Avenue. Having spent more than 19 years in prison, Calvin would have been eligible for parole in May, according to his attorneys.
In their lawsuit, Calvin’s lawyers alleged he was “yet another victim” of police corruption in KCK “as exemplified” by former detective Roger Golubski, who was accused in a multi-million dollar lawsuit of framing an innocent man in another case. Golubski now faces federal charges that accuse him of sexual assault and conspiring to sex traffic underage girls in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Calvin’s co-defendant, Melvin Lee White Jr., got a five-year sentence after taking a plea deal. White admitted he pulled the trigger and has repeatedly said in court and during interviews that Calvin was innocent.
“He ain’t do nothing; I did,” White told KCTV5 several years ago. “I should be doing the time, not him.”
In court, White testified that Calvin was there when he went to Coates’ house to kill him, but that Calvin knew nothing of his plan to commit murder. Then last month, White broke down in tears while talking about Calvin during a gathering and press conference at a KCK church, where Calvin’s relatives called for his release.
At that event, state Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, said attempts had been made to secure compassionate release for Calvin, but that “unfortunately, Kansas law keeps providing many obstacles.” She pleaded with her colleagues at the statehouse to address the state’s compassionate release laws this session because it is “nearly impossible” to obtain now.
“Our laws are preventing an innocent man from spending his final days with family,” she said.
In a previous interview with The Star, Calvin’s daughters, Kiardra Calvin and Jalisa Bluford, said KDOC was neglectful in testing Calvin for cancer after he showed symptoms.
“They failed him,” Bluford said.
U.S. District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum denied Calvin relief in his emergency filing, saying while he was “not unsympathetic” to Calvin’s plight, he had failed to “exhaust his administrative remedies” and did not show a need for court intervention. The judge encouraged the two sides to work to provide him medical and legal help.
The lawsuit had also alleged that KDOC refused to provide Calvin with intravenous nourishment, which his lawyers said amounted to him starving to death in KDOC’s care. In his order, Lungstrum found that Calvin had been given sufficient nourishment, noting that records showed he was eating and had been “drinking supplemental shakes.”
Before he died, Calvin’s case had been referred to the Wyandotte County district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which investigates complaints of police misconduct and wrongful conviction.