State v. Johnson, 2012–0405.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtPFEIFER, J.
Citation144 Ohio St.3d 518,2015 Ohio 4903,45 N.E.3d 208
Parties The STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. JOHNSON, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 2012–0405.,2012–0405.
Decision Date01 December 2015

144 Ohio St.3d 518
45 N.E.3d 208
2015 Ohio 4903

The STATE of Ohio, Appellee,
JOHNSON, Appellant.

No. 2012–0405.

Supreme Court of Ohio.

Submitted June 10, 2015.
Decided Dec. 1, 2015.

45 N.E.3d 212

Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Ronald W. Springman Jr., Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

Timothy Young, Ohio Public Defender, Linda Prucha, Supervisor, Death–Penalty Division, and Tyson Fleming and Daniel Jones, Assistant Public Defenders, for appellant.


144 Ohio St.3d 518

{¶ 1} In 1998, defendant-appellant, Rayshawn Johnson, was convicted of the 1997 aggravated murder of Shanon Marks and was sentenced to death. Finding no success on direct appeal or through the postconviction process in state court, Johnson sought habeas corpus relief in federal court and was granted relief there on the grounds that he had received ineffective assistance of trial counsel during the mitigation phase of his trial.

{¶ 2} In 2011, the state conducted a new mitigation hearing. A new judge presided over the hearing, and 12 new jurors recommended a sentence of death. The trial court again imposed a death sentence, and

45 N.E.3d 213

we now review Johnson's direct appeal as of right from that sentence. We find that there were no significant procedural defects in the new mitigation hearing, but, pursuant to our independent evaluation of the sentence under R.C. 2929.05(A), we determine that the aggravating circumstances in this case do not outweigh beyond a reasonable doubt the mitigating factors. We accordingly vacate the sentence of death and remand the cause to the trial court for resentencing consistent with R.C. 2929.06.


A. Johnson's 1998 Trial, Conviction, and Sentence

{¶ 3} In 1998, a jury convicted Johnson of aggravated felony murder, R.C. 2903.01(B), with two accompanying death specifications: Johnson committed murder during the course of an aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, and he acted with prior calculation and design or was the principal offender in the crime, R.C. 2929.04(A)(7). State v. Johnson, 88 Ohio St.3d 95, 101, 723 N.E.2d 1054 (2000). Johnson was sentenced to death. Id.

144 Ohio St.3d 519

{¶ 4} Johnson challenged his conviction and sentence on the grounds that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel during the mitigation phase of his trial. The Ohio courts rejected this argument. See id. at 120, 130, 723 N.E.2d 1054 (direct appeal); State v. Johnson, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C–000090, 2000 WL 1760225, at *3–9 (Dec. 1, 2000) (appeal from denial of petition for postconviction relief), appeal not accepted, 91 Ohio St.3d 1481, 744 N.E.2d 1194 (2001). In April 2002, Johnson filed a habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Johnson v. Bagley, S.D.Ohio No. 1:02–cv–220, 2006 WL 5388021, *6 (Apr. 24, 2006). After conducting an evidentiary hearing, id. at *47, the district court granted habeas relief on Johnson's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at mitigation. Id. at *72–73. On April 24, 2006, the court directed the state to commute Johnson's death sentence or grant him a new mitigation hearing. Id. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Johnson v. Bagley, 544 F.3d 592, 594 (6th Cir.2008).

B. Johnson's 2011 Mitigation Hearing and 2012 Sentence

{¶ 5} Johnson's second mitigation hearing began on November 30, 2011. The common pleas court assigned a new presiding judge, who in turn seated a new panel of jurors. The judge instructed the jurors that they must adhere to the prior guilty verdict as to aggravated murder and the two related death-penalty specifications and that they could consider only those two specifications as aggravating circumstances for sentencing purposes.

1. The State's Evidence

{¶ 6} Because the new jurors had not heard the guilt phase of Johnson's trial, the state presented seven witnesses during the new mitigation hearing. The prosecutor also reintroduced all but one of the state's exhibits from Johnson's original trial, including numerous photos of Shanon's body at the crime scene and during the autopsy. The state's evidence established the following. See also State v. Johnson, 88 Ohio St.3d at 96–101, 723 N.E.2d 1054.

{¶ 7} According to Johnson's recorded confessions, he decided to enter the Marks residence on the morning of November 12, 1997, because he needed money. Before leaving home, Johnson picked up a baseball bat and a pair of gloves. Then Johnson climbed out a window in his garage and over a fence into the Markses' backyard, which was contiguous to his own.

45 N.E.3d 214

{¶ 8} Johnson was familiar with the layout of the Marks residence because he had done work there for a previous owner. He entered their unlocked back door and walked up the back staircase. Johnson spotted Shanon in the upstairs bathroom, looking out the window. He hit the back of her head and shoulder area with the bat. He hit her again after she fell to the floor.

144 Ohio St.3d 520

{¶ 9} Johnson then found Shanon's purse in the master bedroom and emptied its contents on the bed. Shanon's husband, Norman Marks, testified that she should have had close to $50 in her purse that day, but police found no money.

{¶ 10} After Johnson left the house, he discarded the gloves in a trash bin, broke the bat with a brick, and threw the pieces of the bat into Eden Park. Police did not recover the gloves or the bat. However, they did find shoe prints consistent with Johnson's Air Jordan sneakers both in the Markses' bathroom and on a railroad tie along the fence line between Johnson's and the Markses' homes.

{¶ 11} Norman arrived home from work around 8:00 p.m., discovered his wife's body, and called 9–1–1.

{¶ 12} Emergency responders concluded that Shanon had been dead for hours. The coroner's autopsy indicated that she had suffered massive head injuries, consistent with being hit multiple times—with much force—with a baseball bat. Shanon died of lacerations to the brain, caused by a blunt object hitting her head. Her left forearm was broken and her hands were bruised, indicating that she had tried to protect herself.

{¶ 13} In the hours following Shanon's death, Johnson watched police investigate the murder from a window in his house. Over the next few days, he spoke to the media on several occasions. He told reporters that his dog had been barking around 7:30 a.m. on November 12. He also expressed concern about having crime in the neighborhood.

{¶ 14} Police interviewed Johnson at his home on November 14, then at the police station on November 15. Johnson confessed in two recorded statements and was arrested. On November 16, he provided a third recorded statement at the county jail, in which he claimed that a man named Dante had accompanied him into the Markses' home and that Dante had delivered the final blows to Shanon with the handle of a gun.

2. Johnson's Evidence

{¶ 15} During the 2011 mitigation hearing, the defense presented five witnesses, Johnson's unsworn statement, and eight exhibits. A detailed description of the testimony is included in our independent sentence evaluation below.

3. 2012 Death Sentence

{¶ 16} On December 7, 2011, the jury recommended a sentence of death.

{¶ 17} The judge did not immediately sentence Johnson, because he wanted time to review the trial transcript and exhibits from Johnson's original trial for any possible mitigation evidence the defense might have missed. The court also admitted the original 11–volume trial transcript into evidence as a court exhibit.

144 Ohio St.3d 521

On January 10, 2012, the trial court concluded that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating factors and sentenced Johnson to death.

{¶ 18} Johnson now appeals, raising seven propositions of law.


A. Jury Issues

{¶ 19} In proposition of law No. 1, Johnson, an African–American, argues that the

45 N.E.3d 215

state violated his equal-protection rights by purposefully excluding two African–American prospective jurors. In addition, proposition of law No. 2 asserts that Johnson's trial counsel were ineffective for failing to effectively present Batson challenges during voir dire.

1. Batson v. Kentucky

{¶ 20} Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to be tried by a jury selected by nondiscriminatory criteria. Batson v....

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