Death Row Inmate Nikolaus Johnson Gets Facebook Profile Yanked

Nikolaus Johnson

Death row inmate #421296 was looking for friends.

Convicted cop killer Nikolaus Johnson wasn't letting the iron bars at a maximum security prison stop him from making friends on the popular social networking site Facebook.

In fact, 31-year-old Johnson, who has yet to receive his execution date, had nearly 300 friends.

Johnson lost his friends late last week shortly after ABCNews.com asked Facebook whether the company has rules against inmates having Facebook accounts.

"Being imprisoned and having a Facebook account isn't against our policies, but providing others with a password to access an account is a violation of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which governs our relationship with users," Andrew Noyes, a public policy communications manager at Facebook, said in statement. "Since this individual does not have Internet access, someone else is maintaining the profile. Thus, the account was disabled."

Other inmates maintain Web sites online or pages on Facebook, which is actually different from having a profile on Facebook. Pages are permitted to be run by people other than the individual it features.

One of Johnson's fellow death row prisoners, Gaile Owens, has a page dedicated to her that is managed by her lawyers, who are asking for the public's support in getting her sentence commuted. Owens was convicted of hiring a man to kill her husband in 1985.

Owens has more than 500 fans on her Facebook page.

Until Facebook pulled the plug on his account, Johnson had appeared fairly active online.

On Feb. 18 he posted a message to his friends on his wall that read, "Love you all!!!" to which people identifying themselves as his cousins wrote back messages of support like "Stay strong!" while others promised to send him photographs to hang in his cell.

On Jan. 5, Johnson posted a message with his mailing address and earlier that same day, posted a message of thanks. "Just want to let you all know in my Facebook family…All your emails and comments are keeping me strong! Thank you!" he posted.

Death Row Inmate Likely Had Someone Outside Prison Running His Profile

Johnson was sentenced to death in April 2007, after a jury found him guilty of fatally shooting a Bristol, Tenn., police officer in 2004.

According to news reports during his trial, witnesses testified that Johnson, who was 26 at the time, became infuriated when he realized his 17-year-old pregnant girlfriend had lied about getting an abortion. Johnson threatened to kill the first person that came into their apartment, according to testimony, saying that he'd rather "go to prison for murder than statutory rape."

When Officer Mark Vance arrived, Johnson kept his word and shot the officer in the head, killing him.

Johnson has been on death row at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tenn., for almost three years. He appears to have launched his page on Facebook in August 2009.

Prison officials told ABCNews.com that it is likely a friend on the outside, not Johnson, who is maintaining his online profile. It is because of this that Facebook disabled Johnson's account.

"He's obviously not running it from his cell because there is no Internet access on death row," said Tennessee Department of Correction Communications Officer Dorinda Carter.

"He has telephone privileges and access to mail, so I imagine he is passing messages for his Facebook page through the mail and also on the phone," said Carter.

Inmate Should Establish Fan Pages, Not Profiles, to Abide by Facebook's Rules

Carter said she does not know who is operating the page on Johnson's behalf but that the Department of Correction couldn't do anything about it even if they did, saying that the page is "out of their hands."

"For victims and victims' families, especially, we really want them to know that the Department of Correction isn't allowing this sort of stuff to happen inside the prisons and if we could control it, we would," said Carter.

"We're always concerned if the public is concerned about what's happening inside the institution and when it spills out in the community and if victims are concerned, we want to address it the best we can," said Carter.

Carter added she was not sure what kind of monitoring, if any, would take the place of Johnson's page, but urged any victims or victims' families who receive unsolicited communication from prisoners to notify authorities.

Johnson's mother, Kathy Bunche, did not respond to messages sent to her by ABCNews.com, but told ABC News affiliate KMBC that she thinks her son's popularity on Facebook indicates his innocence.

"A lot of people love him, you can see that," said Bunche. "They understand that the story he is a monster can't be right. Everybody knows that's not the case."

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