Killer sent to "safest place in U.S.'

Tuesday, June 2, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

It didn't take very long.

The convicted murderer entered the courtroom about 9:15 Monday morning. His hooded, lizard eyes darted around the room, settling once, I think, on the woman in the back row. His grandmother.

The 54-year-old woman sat with great dignity in a neatly pressed linen jacket, there for him one more time. "I do not think that the Lord would give me more than I can bear," she says quietly.

Rayshawn Johnson, who clubbed Shanon Marks to death with a baseball bat, was sentenced by Judge Robert P. Ruehlman to "the safest place in the U.S., Ohio's death row." He set a date of Sept. 29, 1998, for the execution.

"But I'll be retired," Judge Ruehlman says with disgust, "before you're ever put to death." Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery has complained that a "death row inmate is more likely to die of natural causes than to be executed."

Killer's room with a view

By 9:30, the killer was being led back to the Hamilton County Justice Center. His girlfriend, Abby Glenn, who sobbed loudly when the jury gave its verdict last month, was silent Monday. She did not join the gawkers who watched deputies lead the father of her 7-month-old son back to the justice center.

During the trial, she often hung out at the bus stop behind the courthouse, across the street from the justice center, bouncing the little boy on her knee. His father apparently had a room with a view. Visitation of a sort.

I wonder what this little boy will be told.

The grandmother, Marian Faulkner, says she thinks the trial was not fair because the jury was white. She also cited media coverage. "It was a done deal from the beginning," she told me in the elevator after the sentencing. "We knew this would happen from day one." She loves her grandson.

Unconditional love. A grandparent's love. We grandmothers, in particular, have no perspective whatsoever. She told a reporter that her grandson has a good heart.

Escaping justice

"I don't even know what kind of, what made me do it," Rayshawn Johnson says in one of three tape-recorded statements to police. "It just happened. Just happened. Less than five minutes." Last Nov. 12, after he watched Shanon Marks' husband, Norman, leave for work, he crept over a fence to the back door of the young couple's house on a quiet street in East Walnut Hills.

"I just opened it, an' it was open," he told police. "If it wasn't opened, I was going to do it to somebody else, I guess."

He'd already misfired at least once. Two months before he killed Shanon Marks, Rayshawn Johnson attacked Nicole Sroufe just outside her Springdale apartment. She got away. He was arrested and charged with robbery and kidnapping.

He got out of jail the next day. His grandmother posted bond, then let her grandson and his girlfriend move into her house. From there, he could see into Shanon Marks' bathroom.

No wonder people don't trust the justice system. No wonder prosecutors pile on the charges and prosecute killers who already have been convicted. Would more people be opposed to the death penalty if we could really believe the bad guys wouldn't get back out again? Will somebody explain to Rayshawn Johnson's son someday why his father is not available to him? Will he be told the truth of his father's terrible crime? Not that he was persecuted by a racist jury. Not that he was the victim of ravening media vultures.

Mr. Johnson was punished by a system that gave him more than one chance and treated him with civility. The sentence of death was swift, but justice was deliberate.

Maybe someone will tell the boy these things. But I don't believe that it will be Marian Faulkner. Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at