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Supreme Court Affirms Death Sentence for Guernsey County Man

2004-1163. State v. Johnson, 2006-Ohio-6404.
Guernsey C.P. No. 03-CR-116. Judgment affirmed.
Moyer, C.J., Resnick, Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, O'Donnell and Lanzinger, JJ., concur.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2006/2006-Ohio-6404.pdf

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(Dec. 13, 2006) The Supreme Court of Ohio today affirmed the convictions and death sentence of Marvin Johnson of Cambridge. In August 2003, Johnson kidnapped and murdered 13-year-old Daniel Bailey and kidnapped, raped and robbed Daniel's mother, Lisa Bailey, who was Johnson's ex-girlfriend. The Court's unanimous opinion was authored by Justice Terrence O'Donnell.

Johnson had appealed his convictions and death sentence from the Guernsey County Court of Common Pleas, raising multiple allegations of legal and procedural errors during his trial as grounds for the Supreme Court to reverse his convictions and/or reduce his sentence. Writing for the Court in today's decision, Justice O'Donnell held that “Johnson raises twenty-three propositions of law; however, after review, none are well taken, and pursuant to our independent review of the death sentence in accordance with R.C. 2929.05(A), we affirm these convictions and the sentence imposed.”

According to trial testimony, Johnson became depressed and used crack cocaine heavily after Lisa Bailey broke off a multi-year relationship with him. On Aug. 15, 2003, Lisa returned to her home after working an overnight shift as a nurse and heard a shower running upstairs, when she investigated, expecting to find her son, she encountered Johnson leaving the bathroom holding a large kitchen knife.

Johnson confronted Lisa at knifepoint and told her that her son was being held by others at another location, but would be released unharmed later that morning if she had sex with him and gave him $1,000. After coercing her to perform oral sex, Johnson accompanied Lisa to her bank, where she cashed a check for $1,000 at a drive-though window and gave the bank envelope containing the cash to Johnson. He then left, promising to call her in a couple of hours and tell her where to find her son. When she returned home, Bailey searched the house and found Daniel's body tied up and hidden under a pile of old clothing in the basement. Medical examiners testified that Daniel had been killed by several blows to the head with a heavy object, possibly a two-by-four piece of lumber, and suffered multiple skull fractures, bruising on his face and two long lacerations on his head. They indicated that the victim was struck while he was seated or lying down, and was still alive when he was bound, gagged and dragged to the basement.

During pretrial proceedings, Johnson argued with his court-appointed attorneys and attempted to have them replaced. The trial judge denied that request. Johnson was represented by his appointed counsel during jury selection, but insisted on acting as his own attorney during most of the guilt phase of his trial, including the closing statement. Johnson was found guilty of aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape and aggravated robbery, and sentenced to death.

Among the claims rejected by the Supreme Court in today's decision, Johnson argued that he was denied his constitutional right to legal counsel when the trial judge would not allow him to immediately address the court regarding his disagreements with his lawyers during a pre-trial hearing, and subsequently denied his motion to appoint new attorneys to replace the court-appointed counsel in whom he said he had no confidence.

In its opinion, the Court said that the record did not support Johnson's claim that the trial judge failed to inquire into his complaints.

“The court gave him an opportunity to present any complaints against counsel in open court, on the record, or in the form of a letter to the judge,” wrote Justice O'Donnell. “The limited inquiry by the court afforded Johnson an opportunity to address his concern to the court regarding potential prejudice from pretrial publicity. When given the opportunity to speak, however, Johnson only asked, ‘[H]ow can the newspaper just print something I didn't say[?]' The complaint did not entitle Johnson to a change of counsel or to broader inquiry by the court.”

Johnson also argued that his waiver of counsel during a portion of the guilt phase of the trial should be declared invalid because the trial judge failed to advise him sufficiently of the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation. “… (T)he trial court warned Johnson that he would be ‘subject to the same rules of procedure and evidence that would apply to any other person[.]' Johnson acknowledged that he understood that,” Justice O'Donnell wrote. “Further, because Johnson had witnessed various pretrial hearings, the voir dire process, and four days of trial testimony before attempting to waive counsel, the court knew that Johnson understood ‘that there are technical rules governing the conduct of a trial, and that presenting a defense is not a simple matter of telling one's story.”

The Court also denied Johnson's claim that the trial judge committed reversible error when he required Johnson to wear a “stun belt” in court during his trial without conducting a hearing to determine whether that precaution was reasonable or commensurate with any threat Johnson posed to others in the courtroom. While acknowledging that the trial judge should have made findings on the record to support the use of a restraint, Justice O'Donnell wrote: “… (W)e hold that although a trial court errs when it orders a defendant to wear a stun belt without sufficient justification in the record, the defendant waives the error by failing to object. Thus, we turn to the record in this case to determine whether Johnson suffered prejudice due to the stun belt. The record contains no evidence that indicates the jury could see or had any knowledge of the stun belt that Johnson wore on his leg.”

Daniel G. Padden, 740.432.6322, for the State of Ohio and Guernsey County prosecutor's office.

Dennis L. Sipe, 740.373.3219, for Marvin Johnson.