Death penalty overturned in Cincy murder case

Posted at 11:28 AM, Dec 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-01 11:28:58-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court has sent back a death sentence for a Hamilton County man convicted of killing his neighbor in 1997.

The justices wrote that aggravating circumstances in the case of Rayshawn Johnson were not outweighed beyond a reasonable doubt by other factors.

Johnson was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1998 for the brutal beating death of his neighbor, Shanon Marks, inside her home. A second jury upheld the death penalty sentence after a weeklong trial in 2012.

The court cited mitigating factors such as Johnson’s childhood that when taken together made a death sentence inappropriate.

The case has been sent back to Hamilton County court for re-sentencing.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Justices Paul Pfeifer, Judith Lanzinger and William O’Neill voted to overturn the sentence and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon Kennedy and Judith French dissented.

The justices mainly cited mitigating factors including Johnson’s childhood, addiction and developmental issues.

In their opinion, the justices wrote that Johnson’s attorneys failed to adequately investigate his background and present that to the jury.

They also cited a previous circuit ruling that found the jury was misled about the quality of Johnson’s upbringing.

Johnson’s grandmother later testified about her addiction and her daughter’s addiction issues and how that impacted Johnson’s life.

In one instance, she recounted a time when the family had to live in a shack with “no electricity or water, and they did not always have food or diapers.”

She also spoke about how sometimes the family put drugs in Johnson’s bottle or applesauce, and occasionally gave him beer as a child.

The justices also cited Johnson’s low recorded IQ (83) and his poor performance at school. According to the opinion, Johnson was identified as developmentally handicapped. He was also diagnosed with dependencies on alcohol and marijuana, as well as dysthymia – a form of depression found in people with dysfunctional family backgrounds.

Hamilton County Prosecutory Joseph Deters was slated to hold a press conference on the ruling at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

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