HOUSTON—A Texas family wants answers after a big mistake that made them believe their incarcerated brother was dead.
Daniel Webster Johnson was sentenced to prison six years ago for cocaine possession.
He’s been housed in a medical ward at the Estelle Unit ever since, because he’s blind.
Johnson’s family said when they spoke with him two weeks ago over the phone, he seemed fine. He did not sound like a person who was about to die from a cranial hemorrhage.
But then, Rosetta Johnson said she got a knock on her door. It was a policeman, saying that her brother had passed away and giving her a number to call.
"I don’t know what to do and I am trying to grasp what he is telling me," she remembered.
Rosetta Johnson said she received letters from the prison explaining how to claim his belongings and expressing condolences.
Finally, last Friday, she called the Conroe funeral home that reportedly had her brother’s body.
As it turns out, she was in for a big surprise.
"[They said] somebody else already claimed the body. What do you mean somebody else already claimed the body?" Rosetta Johnson recalled.
The body had been claimed by a family from the Dallas area – the family of Daniel Adam Johnson.
The TDCJ admitted their mistake and released a statement noting that both offenders have the same first and last names, but different middle names.
"While the mistake was inadvertent, it was a mistake that shouldn’t have happened. The agency has contacted both families and apologized for the error," TDCJ spokesperson Jason Clark said.
But what bothers Rosetta Johnson most is that she had to tell the TDCJ about the error, because no one from the prison ever called her.
She did speak with a chaplain, who told her to be happy her brother was still alive.
"He said just be glad that he is still alive. I am. I said, more than anything, I don’t want to bury my brother, but still, that is not no comfort for me," she said.
It’s also not much of a comfort for Daniel Webster Johnson’s other brothers and sisters living across the country, who’d made plans to come to Texas for the funeral.
Rosetta Johnson said she’s concerned that if a mix-up like this could happen in a matter of life and death, then it could happen at another time, like during the parole process.
The TDCJ said they’re investigating.