Man gets 2nd chance to avoid death penalty
Nov. 28, 2011
Written by Associated Press
CINCINNATI -- A man convicted in 1998 of fatally beating a woman is getting a second chance to escape death row in a new sentencing trial that begins today in southwest Ohio.
Rayshawn Johnson was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering neighbor Shanon Marks, 29, of Cincinnati, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. His conviction stands, but his sentence was thrown out in 2008 by a federal appeals court in Cincinnati. The court ruled that Johnson's lawyers didn't fully investigate his abusive childhood.
The appeals court agreed with a district court's ruling that an effective defense could have humanized Johnson's case during sentencing by presenting information about physical abuse and drug use in his family. The appeals ruling noted that Johnson's attorneys did such a poor job in the penalty phase of Johnson's trial that he deserved a new trial -- but only to determine his sentence.
"The conviction stands. His guilt or innocence has been decided. It's not an issue here," said Will Welsh, one of Johnson's new attorneys.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and his chief assistant won the conviction and death sentence 1998 and will try again to send Johnson to death row.
The most difficult part of the new trial for both sides will be not revealing that Johnson was sentenced to death for the killing, the newspaper reported. Jurors will have to accept that Johnson was convicted of capital murder, but they cannot be told that he was sentenced to die.
Jurors must base their decision on what they hear in the new trial.
Johnson, now 33, lived close to Marks and her husband, Norman. Authorities said Johnson slipped into the couple's house on Nov. 12, 1997, while Shanon Marks was getting ready for work on her third wedding anniversary.
Authorities said Johnson beat Marks with the bat 13 times. The last three blows were to her head and likely were intended to keep her from identifying her attacker, the newspaper reported. Marks' husband found her body 13 hours later.
When police interviewed her neighbors, they noticed Johnson was wearing the same shoes as those that left prints near Marks' body. Johnson later gave police three taped confessions.
Johnson's new attorneys will focus on his childhood in an attempt to gain sympathy from jurors and to persuade them to recommend life in prison instead of the death penalty.
"His mother was absolutely horrendous, Welsh said. "She was drug- and alcohol-addicted and was prostituting herself across the country at age 13. It's so bad, I couldn't make it up if I tried."
Johnson lived with his grandmother, who also was an alcoholic, and was subjected to constant beatings and neglect, Welsh said.
"The damage to this child was immeasurable," Welsh said.
The prosecutor said the damage done to Marks was worse.
Deters said the assistant coroner on the case told him he that "out of the 7,000 autopsies he's done, he'll never forget this" because of Marks' innocence and because of the brutality involved.
"I can't imagine what it was like for her family," Deters said.
Photo : The murderer Rayshawn Johnson