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Ohio Supreme Court overturns death sentence in beating death, cites troubled upbringing


COLUMBUS, Ohio — A condemned killer's troubled childhood, which included learning the drug trade from his mother, outweigh the brutal nature of his crime, a divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in overturning the man's death sentence.

The 4-3 decision was the second time a court has rejected a death sentence for Rayshawn Johnson, who fatally beat Shanon Marks with a baseball bat in 1997 for about $50.

Johnson suffered from mental illness and addiction and had limited intellectual ability at the time, said Justice Paul Pfeifer, writing for the majority. At 19, Johnson was also barely removed from his "corrosive upbringing," the justice said.

As a child, "Johnson was not taught the difference between right and wrong, did not learn to make good choices, and did not witness positive social interactions," Pfeifer wrote.

Instead, his mother taught her son how to sell drugs, and Johnson watched his mother doing drugs and trading sexual favors for drug money, Pfeifer said.

While imprisoned, the 37-year-old Johnson has shown remorse, converted to Christianity and counseled young men not to follow his path, including his own son, Pfeifer said. He was joined by justices William O'Neill and Judith Lanzinger and Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor.

The court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Johnson, who was convicted of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, that cannot include capital punishment.

Dissenting justice Terrence O'Donnell said the brutality of the crime outweighed arguments about Johnson's childhood.

"Johnson stole her money, ignored her cries for help, and left her to die on a bathroom floor while he disposed of the evidence to avoid being connected to the attack," O'Donnell wrote. He was joined by justices Judi French and Sharon Kennedy.

Johnson originally was sentenced to death in 1998. He had a new hearing after a federal judge said he had received poor legal assistance, and he was again sentenced to death in 2011.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters criticized the ruling at a news conference Tuesday. The court decision was frustrating and hard to explain given the "horrific" circumstances of Marks' killing, he said.

"It really affects your faith in the system," Deters said.

The decision was the second in two months in which the Supreme Court overturned a death sentence based not on arguments made by the condemned inmate, but on an independent analysis by the court of factors leading to the sentence.

In October, the court said the death sentence of Bennie Adams, a man convicted of killing a Youngstown State student 30 years ago, was invalid because prosecutors failed to prove he committed aggravated burglary during the crime. Prosecutors have appealed that decision.

Associated Press Writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at His work can be found at

This story has corrected to show the spelling of justice's last name in Pfeifer, not Pfeiffer.

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