Death penalty overturned for man convicted of murdering neighbor - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Death penalty overturned for man convicted of murdering neighbor

Rayshawn Johnson (FOX19 NOW/file) Rayshawn Johnson (FOX19 NOW/file)
Shannon Marks (Provided photo) Shannon Marks (Provided photo)

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside the death sentence of a Hamilton County man convicted of murdering his Cincinnati neighbor in 1997.

In a 4-3 decision, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer wrote that the aggravating circumstances in the case of Rayshawn Johnson were not outweighed beyond a reasonable doubt by other factors.

Johnson was sentenced to death in 1998 for the beating death of 29-year-old Shanon Marks inside her home. The death penalty decision was upheld in a second sentencing trial in 2012.

Justice Pfeifer described multiple mitigating factors, including Johnson’s ill-fated childhood, which together made the death sentence inappropriate.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters called the decision unexplainable in a press conference Tuesday.

“More than anything I’m struck by how tragic this is going to be to Shannon’s family and her former husband. It’s just not right,” said Deters.

The case will return to trial court for resentencing. Johnson could now face Life with parole eligibility at 20 to 30 years or life without parole, Deters said.

Marks' husband discovered her body when he returned home from work on Nov. 12, 1997. Johnson, then 19, followed Marks into her home, emptied her purse then beat her with a bat. 

The original two trials did not sufficiently consider Johnson's troubled upbringing as a factor when evaluating the death sentence, justices determined. An explanation from Ohio Court News reads in-part: 

 "The Court described the evidence presented in mitigation during the hearing. Johnson’s mother, who did not testify at Johnson’s first trial, stated that she had Johnson when she was 16 years old and explained that she often put him in a closet when he was an infant and also gave him prescription drugs and heroin in his bottle or applesauce. When Johnson was 12 or 13, she taught him how to drink and how to take and deal drugs. Johnson’s grandmother, who was responsible for him and a younger brother for several years, said she whipped and hit the boys and that drinking alcohol was her priority."  

“Johnson’s age at the time of the murder, 19, means that he was not far removed from that corrosive upbringing when he committed the crime,” the justice continued. “He suffered from mental illness and addiction and had limited intellectual ability. There is evidence that as Johnson has aged and been part of a structured prison environment, he has changed. Johnson has expressed sincere remorse for his crimes, and he has not been subject to any discipline for misbehavior while he has been in prison.”

Justice Pfeifer acknowledged this was the pointless and inexcusable killing of an innocent woman, but concluded that a sentence of death was not appropriate in this case.

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