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December 1, 2015

Split Ohio Supreme Court reverses death sentence based on statutory "independent evaluation"

As reported in this Reuters piece, a "man who beat a female neighbor to death with a baseball bat when he was a teenager had a troubled family background and childhood of drug and alcohol abuse and should not have been sentenced to death, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.'  Here is more about the notable capital ruling and some reactions thereto:

The court in a 4-3 decision vacated the death sentence of Rayshawn Johnson, who was 19 years old when he killed Shanon Marks in 1997 in a Cincinnati neighborhood.... "The sentence of death imposed by the trial court is not appropriate in this case," Justice Paul Pfeifer wrote for the majority.

Johnson had been sentenced to death twice in the killing, most recently in 2012 after a federal court set aside the initial sentence, ruling that jurors should have been allowed to consider his difficult childhood at a sentencing hearing.

“I think the message is that courts need to give meaningful consideration to the mitigation that is presented on behalf of clients.  His life story, all of those things, the negative influences… the significant trauma … comes back later in life in unfortunate ways,” said Ohio Public Defender Timothy Young, whose office represents Johnson....

"What's kind of mindboggling about this decision is that -- I have to be careful because we have rules not to criticize judges so I'm not going to do that.  But what is frustrating, and this poor family, my god, we went through basically two trials already," Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Deters told reporters.

The lengthy ruling in Ohio v. Johnson, No. 2015-Ohio-4903 (Ohio Dec. 1, 2015), is available at this link, and here is a key pargraph from the start of the majority opinion:

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 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.

December 1, 2015 at 08:04 PM | Permalink


All mitigating factors are aggravating factors. Only in the lawyer Twilight Zone world would factors that make people far more dangerous get called mitigating.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 2, 2015 12:24:05 AM

Think of all the $$$$$$ wasted ‼

Had death been taken off the table initially , then think of all the cost and time avoided •

The winners are the court reporters who are paid by the page ‼‼

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady „ the Nemo Me ☺ Impune Lacessit guy in Oregon ‼ | Dec 2, 2015 1:01:08 AM

Will the Justices be issuing guidelines for precisely what extenuating circumstances may disqualify a perpetrator from death penalty consideration? I'm sure the State could save a lot of time and resources in not pursuing a death sentence for folks about whose guilt there is no question but who may not have received enough hugs as a child, if such parameters were delineated. Also, some folks who may be refraining from murder out of concern that they might end up on the bad end of a cyanide bong might choose to satisfy their homicidal fantasies, if they knew their hard-knock upbringing gave them a get-off-the-gurney card.

Beyond that, if the true goal is to minimize prosecution expenses, why don't we just allow the bereaved survivors to administer in-kind justice to perpetrators? Think how much money would be saved by providing the grieving family with a few baseball bats and five minutes in a locked room. The squeamish families could delegate the delivery of justice to folks who just need to release some frustrations.

I'm not a student, attorney, or other legal professional. I'm just a citizen who believes executing murderers is the moral responsibility of civilized societies, and who thinks its ridiculous that a twice-convicted murderer who committed a homicide using a prehistoric bludgeon can be excused by anything except the grace of God from the just and appropriate consequence of his actions.

Posted by: Jean-Marc O'Connor | Dec 2, 2015 1:48:53 AM

It is refreshing to read of a court willing to accept that more than lip service must be given to mitigation factors even in such serious circumstances of murder. This is a fundamental basis for the just application of the law in sentencing and a reason why there has to be detachment of sentencing from the emotion of the criminal act. The reaction of the prosecutor is unfortunately typical - he is less interested in the law than in fulfilling a perceived duty to satisfy the instincts of revenge of the victims family. That is poor motive and bad practice of law.

Posted by: peter | Dec 2, 2015 3:04:33 AM

Jean-Marc says what needs to be said.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 2, 2015 9:32:52 AM

Peter. You are a prisoner. You are given a choice of cellmates.

Considering your personal physical survival and safety, which do you choose.

A mob professional assassin, who likely has killed dozens of people for fee.

A paranoid schizophrenic who has killed his mother for not getting him a pack of cigarettes quickly enough, and who believed that ducks in a nearby pond were tormenting him, and now his mother was in cahoots with them, and he had to act in self defense.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 3, 2015 8:23:46 PM

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