CINCINNATI (FOX19) - On November 12, 1997, Shanon Marks was a married 29-year-old, working at Procter & Gamble, and living in East Walnut Hills.
“This is a beautiful, lovely woman,” Hamilton Co. Prosecutor Joe Deters said. “I mean just smart. Worked for Proctor & Gamble. Smart as could be."
Marks would not live to see 30. Her neighbor, Rayshawn Johnson, who was 19-years-old at the time, watched Marks' husband leave the house. Moments later, it was Johnson in the house, beating Shanon and rummaging through her purse looking for money.
"And she's laying on the bathroom floor with a broken jaw, broken arm, all beat up and she's crying,” Deters said. As Johnson was leaving, he heard those cries.
“So he goes up and hits her in the head hard, three times, breaking her skull in three different places, killing her,” Deters said. "What he did to Shanon Marks was sickening.”
THE WITNESS WAS THE KILLER
Soon after, the media descended on the scene, including FOX19 NOW’s Tricia Macke. Macke was looking for a witness to speak to and found one. What she didn’t know as he led her up into his apartment was that the witness was the killer.
“They was taking pictures right over here in the bathroom,” Johnson told Macke as he pointed toward Marks’ home.
Johnson said his dog woke him up at 7:30 that morning.
“I looked around, there wasn’t nothing there,” Johnson said. “Like what if I was out there like five minutes earlier. Then I could have seen it. It’s like man I could have been there or something could have been done, could have seen something. Give a description or anything.”
“Rayshawn, idiot, was giving interviews,” Deters said.
Deters said something else tipped off authorities that Johnson may have been the killer.
A footprint showing the pattern of the bottom of the new edition of Air Jordans. Johnson was wearing new Air Jordans when doing his TV interview with Macke.
"They panned down to his dog, some rat looking thing,” Deters remembers. “But they showed his shoes. And they were new Air Jordans. And so they're like, ok we need to talk to him."
Deters says Johnson confessed to Marks’ murder a week later. In 1998, a jury convicted Johnson, and a judge sentenced him to death.
CHEATING DEATH, TWICE
Johnson appealed that decision, arguing his own lawyers didn’t fully investigate his abusive past.
Ten years later, an appeals court ruled in Johnson’s favor and threw out the death sentence. That meant a second trial in 2012.
Marks’ husband had to testify a second time about what he saw when he came home in November of 1997.
“She was face-down, and one arm was draped up against her up against the edge of the tub,” Norman Marks testified.
Johnson’s childhood was also the focus of the second trial.
“I put a little heroin in his bottle before so he could go to sleep,” Johnson’s mother said. “I taught him how to drink, I taught him how to smoke marijuana and how to cook up cocaine for sale.”
"It wasn’t long after I was introduced and even encouraged to use drugs by of all people, my own mother, that I found my life consumed with obtaining drugs and alcohol to escape the reality that was my life,” Johnson said.
Despite pleas from Johnson’s mother to spare her son’s life, a judge sentenced Johnson to death for a second time. But that sentence would only hold up for three years.
In 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the first two trials did not sufficiently consider Johnson’s troubled upbringing when evaluating the death sentences.
Johnson would now receive life in prison without the possibility of parole. For Prosecutor Deters, that is infuriating.
“What should lessen what should happen to him? Nothing,” Deters said. “I gotta tell ya, it pisses me off.”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Rayshawn Johnson is currently locked up in the Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima.
Shanon Marks’ legacy lives on at Bowling Green State University, where Marks graduated from the Computer Science program in 1991.
The Shanon Wise Marks Memorial Scholarship is intended to encourage women to enter the computing field.