Jury recommends death penalty for Rayshawn Johnson

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A Hamilton County jury has recommended the death penalty for Rayshawn Johnson in the murder of Shanon Marks.

"We did our very best for Shanon and I think it was a just verdict," prosecutor Joe Deters said.

"We showed his background, how he was raised," defense attorney Will Welsh said. "On the other side it is a horrific crime. It was tough, it was tough for everybody. And the jurors came down here and they listened and they gave their verdict and we accept their verdict."

When the verdict was read, Johnson showed no visible reaction.

"He has no remorse," Deters said. "He just doesn't care. He has never cared."

"Of course he's disappointed and he's going to take it one day at a time," defended Welsh.

At the same time, Welsh admits the verdict did not come as a complete shock to Johnson.

"He's spent 14 years on death row," Welsh said. "He knew this was an option and he wasn't blind to that fact so he knew that he could very well be going back to death row."

The defense says they feel they did all they could.

"We left it all in the court room," Welsh said. "We wanted to make sure the jury saw who Rayshawn was, where he came from and we think we did that and we certainly feel he got a fair trial."

"There's no joy in this," Deters said. "But the jurors weighed correctly and did the right thing and it renews your faith in the citizens of the county."

The jury had been sequestered since Tuesday afternoon when they first began deliberations.

The jury ultimately decided that the aggravated circumstances being considered outweighed the mitigating factors of Johnson's troubled childhood.

The aggravated circumstances, according to Judge Ralph Winkler, included the aggravated nature of the robbery and burglary committed in conjunction with the murder; however the aggravated murder itself was not considered as an aggravating circumstance.

The verdict required unanimous support from the jury. The sentence is only a recommendation; the final sentence will come from Judge Winkler.

Johnson murdered his neighbor, Shanon Marks, in 1997 by beating her with a baseball bat. He was originally given the death penalty, but an appeals court ordered a new sentencing, saying Johnson's lawyers didn't fully investigate his abusive childhood.

Throughout the case, the defense argued Johnson is a different man than he was in 1997.

"The 19-year-old brutally murdered Shanon Marks. There's no question … for money," defense attorney William Welsh said. "The 33-year-old hasn't been in trouble in 14 years is sober, is clean, he can help someone else."

On the other side, the prosecution questioned if Johnson had truly changed.

"It's amazing how many people who commit horrible acts and then have to face the consequences find Jesus," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said.

During the proceedings, the defense brought Johnson's mother and grandmother to the stand to testify about numerous accounts of abuse and neglect, arguing Johnson's troubled childhood led him to commit the crime.

"On that day he did go in there, he did get high, he did kill her, he did rob her," Welsh said. "That was the person that [his mother and grandmother] molded."

The prosecution countered by questioning whether even his addictions molded his behavior.

"If he is that whacked out from drugs and alcohol could he have even pulled this off the way he did?" assistant prosecutor Mark Piepmeier asked the jury Tuesday.

Finally, the defense argued Johnson could spend the rest of his life, even in prison, making a positive difference.

"If he changes one person, and that one person doesn't go out and commit a crime, isn't it all worth it?" Welsh asked the jury.

The defense argued Johnson is already having a positive impact on his own son. His 14-year-old asked the jury to spare his father's life during his testimony on Monday.

In closing arguments, however, the prosecution questioned whether Johnson deserved another chance at life.

"His real intention was to get Shanon. That's what he wanted," argued Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters. "He wanted to kill her."

"He turned around and walked out," Mark Piepmeier, assistant prosecutor said addressing the jury Tuesday. "That was his answer to her plea for mercy."

"Shanon Marks was everything that Rayshawn Johnson is not: responsible, hard working, loving, a great citizen, trusting, innocent," Deters went on to say. "Now she's dead because of his irresponsibility, laziness, cold-bloodedness and viciousness."

There were four sentencing options that had been considered by the jury:

  • Death
  • Life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
  • Life imprisonment without parole eligibility for 25 years
  • Life imprisonment without parole eligibility for 30 years

The defense, however, only asked the jury to consider life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

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