Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Impending Execution of Marcus Ray Johnson: My Analysis

If you hope to make any sense of this post, you should first read the initial post about Marcus Ray Johnson.  That post is here. Make sure you read the comments, too. The Google Blogger NSA add-on feature will tell me if you didn't.

I begin my analysis by examining the crime scene, as best I can from the comfort of my well-worn (and now custom-fitting) not-so-easy chair. I typically use Google and Bing maps for that examination. I prefer Bing for the overhead views, due to its really cool birds eye view feature. I prefer Google for the street views, since Bing only has street views for one street in Iowa. (Or so it seems.)

With respect to the Marcus Ray Johnson case, I could pinpoint the location of only one area of interest to us. I found the address of Fundamentals bar from several online sources to be 2448 North Slappey Boulevard, Albany, GA. When I search both Google and Bing maps, I find that a McDonalds now occupies that space. I presume the Fundamentals bar, as nice as it seemed, went under sometime after March 24, 1994.

Presumed Path Taken by Marcus Johnson and Angela Sizemor
My suspicion is reinforced by this paragraph from the appellate decision:
The police determined that Ms. Sizemore was murdered in a vacant lot near Sixteenth Avenue in west Albany. ... The vacant lot is about two blocks from Fundamentals and about half a block from the house where Johnson lived with his mother.
Sure enough. The map shows a 16th Avenue just two blocks from Fundamentals / McDonalds.

I then tried to determine where the vacant lot might have been. Looking around, the only one I could find that seemed to be within a couple blocks is the one on the corner of Palmyra and 16th Avenue. Presuming that is indeed the vacant lot, I drew a red line from Fundamentals / McDonalds to the perhaps vacant lot in the photo above.

I know. It's a bit weak.

Fortunately, my analysis will not rely on my ability to pinpoint either location precisely. The locations shown will be sufficiently representative for discussion purposes. The image below shows a street view of the presumed lot from 16th Avenue.

Presumed Crime Scene: View from 16th Avenue
It doesn't seem to be particularly private, but when matters of the heart are awash in alcohol and hormones, I guess any port in a storm will do.

I found no address for the location where the victim's van was found. Nor did I find an address for the Monkey Palace, nor for the home of Johnson's girlfriend.

Johnson's home, which he shared with his mother, is apparently only 1/2 block from the actual vacant lot, wherever that is.

An Almost Consensual Encounter
No one seems to dispute that Marcus Johnson and Angela Sizemore met at Fundamentals. Sizemore had been drinking heavily, Johnson had been brushed off by other women, and the two of them were kissing and behaving amorously.

Mental note: We hear nothing about how heavily Johnson had been drinking.

Sizemore had been drinking so heavily that the bartender handed her keys to Johnson. That's the last we hear of the keys.

Mental notes: Last time we hear of the keys, they were in Johnson's possession.

The bartender said he last saw them walking towards 16th Avenue.

Mental notes: They walked from the bar. They did not drive. Her van was presumably in the bar's parking lot. His car, assuming he drove to the bar, was presumably still in the parking lot. On the other hand, he lived within walking distance of the bar.

Johnson was wearing a black leather jacket, jeans, black biker boots, and a distinctive turquoise ring.

Mental note: Maybe he rode a motorcycle.

According to Johnson, they had sex in the vacant lot.

Mental notes: No description of how they were attired (or if they were attired) during their encounter. No discussion if a condom was used. No mention that condom was found. I'll assume no condom.

According to Johnson, she wanted to cuddle after they had sex.

Mental notes: I'll presume he climaxed, unless they convince me otherwise. Should be sperm somewhere. I'm wondering why there is no discussion of the sperm. Surely, if they could prove that he had sex with her via his DNA, they would do it. They have the burden of proof. Why are they not busting their ass to prove the case if they are asking me to put a man to death? I'm uncomfortable.

According to Johnson, this pressure to cuddle caused him to lose it, so he punched her hard in the face.

Mental note: What the hell? Is that enough to cause such a reaction? Did she just want to cuddle? Did she get angry? Did she hit him? Did she scratch him? I'm confused. If she scratched him, wouldn't his DNA be beneath her fingernails? Would they not tell us about that?

The Rape with a Foreign Object
The State tells us that Marcus Johnson raped her with the limb of a pecan tree which was shoved into her vagina until it tore through the back wall of her vagina and into her rectum. The defense tells us that no DNA was found on the limb. The State does not rebut that claim.

Mental note. Can't be. Absolutely can't be. Something is wrong here. Should be blood and tissue on the limb. There must be blood and tissue on the limb. Unless the State convinces me that they found her DNA on that limb, I'm going to assume they have the wrong foreign object. I'm also going to wonder why they would expect me to believe otherwise. I'm going to suspect that they are not being honest with me. They're digging themselves a hole with their burden-of-proof shovel.

Sizemore was alive during the sexual assault.

Mental note: Really? If so, then she must have been unconscious or somehow seriously impaired if Johnson the rapist was acting alone. If they want me to believe she was alive while being raped with a pecan branch, then I have to wonder if more than one person was involved.

Sizemore had grip marks on her upper extremities, knees, thighs, ankles, and the inside of her arms.

Mental notes: Holy cow! Unless Johnson was re-gripping time after time, this sounds like more evidence that more than one person was involved in the attack. And if Johnson was having such trouble maintaining his grip, how did he simultaneously rape her with a pecan branch? Klaxons sounding.

She had severe bruising, abrasions, and other evidence of blunt trauma about her body, especially her face, head, arms, ankles, and feet. Sizemore was alive during this attack.

Mental notes: Perhaps she was unconscious when she was raped. Perhaps he beat her with the  pecan branch before he raped her with it. Maybe that's how he controlled her. But then, he would not need to grip her time after time. Perhaps he griped her on her upper extremities, her knees, her thighs, her ankles, and the inside of her arms, and when that didn't work, he beat her unconscious with the pecan branch and then raped her with it. They're making me do all their work for them. They're making me hypothesize convoluted scenarios which would make him guilty. It's upside down. I don't like it.

Johnson also cut and stabbed Sizemore 41 times with a small, dull knife.

Mental notes: Gotta be blood everywhere. Her body, her clothes, his body, his clothes, the ground, the knife, friggin' everywhere and everything.

Keith Goff, the Crime Lab technician who tested the blood, testified that he did not personally remove the blood from Johnson's leather jacket or see it removed. ... Goff testified that ... he received the blood sample taken from the leather jacket on a piece of cotton thread stapled to a note card ... 

Mental notes: No way. 41 cut and stab wounds and all they find anywhere, anywhere at all, is some blood on a cotton thread that (allegedly) came from Johnson's leather jacket. Must be one of those cotton leather jacket hybrids. Are they suggesting they lifted the dried blood from the jacket by dipping a leather thread in it, stapled the thread to a note card, and gave that sample to the technician to test. Why not give him the jacket?  Why not cut a patch from the jacket that has blood on it? I don't understand.

Transport to Car
Sizemore's body was discovered clothed, with her shirt pulled up and tied in a knot just below the breast. Her pants were around her legs and her bra was tied in a knot around her right thigh and protruded from the pants. ... Johnson had dragged Sizemore's body from the attack area back to her car by using the knotted loops of her shirt and bra as handles.

Mental notes: Either he dressed her after killing her, or she had her clothes mostly on during sex. Of course she did. Anyway, they could determine whether or not she was clothed based on the condition of her clothes. If her clothing was free of cuts and tears, then she was unclothed when stabbed. If the clothing is full of cuts and tears that correspond with the body wounds, then she was clothed. Actually, it makes no difference whether he was clothed or not during sex. Unless he was nude as he transported her bloodied body to her van, then he must have transferred plenty of her blood and DNA to his clothes. Certainly more than just a cotton thread's worth.

Dirt and sand drag marks were found on the side of her body and grass was found attached to her face.

Mental notes: Did they find drag marks in the dirt and grass at the supposed crime scene? Did they find any blood along the drag path? Did they find Johnson's bootprints in the dirt at the crime scene? Did he drag her two blocks from the crime scene to her van?  Did he drag her bloodied body two blocks while completely nude, then return to get his clothes. If so, how did he keep from transferring her blood from his person to his clothes?  My goodness. This is one bad case they're expecting me to believe beyond a reasonable doubt.

Transport to East Side of Town
So he drags her to her van in the parking lot of Fundamentals, or wherever the van was. He places her in her van, draping her across the front passenger seat.

Mental notes: Must have transferred her blood to her van. Gotta be some there. Must also have transferred dirt and grass from the crime scene to her van. Gotta be some there. Yet, I hear nothing of that. Remind me now, which side has the burden of proof?

Then he gets into the van, and drives the van across town to the east side of Albany.

Mental notes: I'll bet he touched at least two door handles and he certainly touched the steering wheel. His fingerprints must have been all over that van, yet no discussion of fingerprints. I'll bet they fingerprinted the van. I'll bet you a hundred bucks. If they didn't, I'd be pissed about that too. But I'll bet they did. And I'll also bet they didn't find any matching prints, or we certainly would have heard about that. My guess is that not only should there be fingerprints and palm prints, there should be bloody fingerprints and bloody bootprints galore.

Then he gets out of the car, presumably by touching and using the interior door handle.

The Bus
Two witnesses testified that [at around 7:00 a.m.] they saw him walk from the area where the victim's Suburban was parked through an apartment complex to a bus stop.

I used Google Maps to find the apartment complexes in Albany, then asked for directions from Fundamentals to the easternmost of those complexes. I used the Pinnacle West Apartments (1.5 stars out of 7) located at 509 N. Westover Boulevard. The Google driving distance is 3.7 miles. The Google driving time is 9 minutes. We'll call it 15. 

Mental notes: Lemme think. They left Fundamentals around 2:30 AM. Give them 15 minutes to stagger 2 blocks, another 15 to complete the act (I'm being generous here), no time to snuggle, and 15 minutes for Johnson to brutalize and kill her. Add another 30 minutes to drag the body back to her van, and 15 minutes to drive there. That's an hour and a half total. Johnson could have arrived as early as 4:00 AM. I'm missing three hours.

Now I want to know the time of death. Did you take her core temperature? Please tell me you at least took her core temperature? What was it, and what time of death does it indicate? I know it's not perfect, but if you use the non-linear algorithms adjusted for environmental temperature and clothing, you should be able to discriminate easily within a factor of two. What was the state of her rigor mortis? What was the state of her livor mortis? Did the livor mortis pattern suggest she had been moved after livor mortis fixed? Talk to me, damnit. Inform me. Educate me.

Two witnesses stated that their attention was drawn to Johnson because that area of Albany is predominantly African-American, and it was extremely unusual to see a Caucasian there at that time of day.

Mental notes: I'll assume these two witnesses were the ones who saw him walking through the apartment complex.

Three witnesses, including the bus driver, identified Johnson as being on the bus (one of the witnesses who saw Johnson walk through the apartment complex boarded the same bus as he did). ... The two witnesses who sat across from Johnson on the two buses he rode identified his leather jacket, biker boots and turquoise ring.

Mental notes: So we have the bus driver, someone who got on the bus with the Caucasian biker, and someone who was on the same transfer bus that Johnson got on. I'm also guessing that the bus driver and the other resident at the apartment did not describe Johnson's clothing as leather jacket, biker boots, and turquoise ring. Instead they described similar clothing.

The witnesses gave similar descriptions of his clothing.

Mental note: Translation -- the witnesses did not all give the same description of his clothing.

In court, two witnesses who sat near Johnson on the bus identified his jacket, boots and distinctive turquoise ring.

Mental note: I wonder what description these two witnesses gave initially. As a juror, I really want to know how consistent their story has been with time. I want to know if the State expects us to believe that their memory actually improved with time. It happens all to often in trials.

Only two witnesses were shown a photographic line-up and both picked Johnson as the man they saw.

Mental notes: And why is that? Which two? Did they video that photo lineup?  Simply a rhetorical question. How many faces per card? How many cards?  Did they show us the cards they used?  The last one was another rhetorical question.

Two witnesses identified Johnson within 24 hours of seeing him, one witness picking him from a photo array and one witness recognizing him from a television news report (after providing police with his description).

Mental notes: They don't have four witnesses who identified him in even a semi-controlled environment. They don't even have two witnesses. They have only one possible unbiased witness who identified him.
The bus driver picked Johnson out of a photo lineup five months after seeing him.

Mental notes: Mamma mia! Five months! This thing had to be all over the news for five months. Did the bus driver make his revelations about Johnson wanting to go to the Monkey Palace only after a five month delay? He must have. If he had told them about remembering Johnson soon after the murder, they would have tried the photo ID with him then. Now I remember. It's not just that two witnesses photo IDed him within 24 hours. It's that two witnesses identified him in any fashion within 24 hours. They didn't find the bus driver for 5 months. Wow!

The fourth witness did not make an identification of him until a court hearing several years later.

Mental note: This sucks.

They all remembered that he was soiled with dirt or red clay.

Mental note: Did the dirt or red clay match the soil at the crime scene? Was there similar dirt or red clay in the car? Was there similar dirt or red clay on Sizemore's clothing? This is pathetic. They're not proving the case to me beyond a reaonable doubt. They're asking me to fill in some gigantic holes in their story. They're asking me to abandoned my oath, relieve them of their burden of proof, and loosely interpret the meaning of reasonable doubt, and vote guilty.  I won't do it.


Oh, did I say that out loud? It's alright then. You know where I stand. Unless at least one of you other jurors can explain to me what I'm missing with respect to my many concerns, I won't be able to vote guilty. I'm not saying I won't vote guilty. I certainly will, assuming anyone of you can save the State's case and explain to me why I should believe beyond reasonable doubt that Marcus Ray Johnson is guilty.

This should be an evidence rich case. It is anything but. It is astoundingly weak in physical and forensic evidence. Astoundingly weak. Something is seriously wrong here.


The defense is under no obligation whatsoever to explain who might have killed Angela Sizemore. Furthermore, I'm in no position to investigate this case as the police should have investigated it back then. Nonetheless, I did finally run across something that makes me more likely to think that Angela Sizemore was killed by multiple assailants, just as all the grip marks suggest.

Angela Sizemore was married at the time she was murdered. Her married name was Angela Barker. It seems as if she was married to a drug runner and a human trafficker. It's likely she knew a lot of bad folks. She had recently moved from Florida to Georgia after her husband had been arrested in the deaths of four Haitians he had forced to jump from his boat while he was still far from shore. I present segments of the story below. You can read the entire article here.

June 12, 1994 | By JONATHON KING and THOMAS MONNAY Staff Writers

Businessman, fisherman, musician, smuggling suspect. Richard Barker is not a simple man. Barker, a native Floridian who grew up in West Palm Beach, is facing criminal charges stemming from the deaths of two children and two adults in a tragic smuggling attempt in February.

The accusations of alien smuggling have not been proved in court. But the Sun-Sentinel found several people on Grand Bahama Island who identified Barker as a man who smuggled Haitians from the Bahamas to Florida. ...

"He's a good person," says Yanise Fenelus, a Haitian woman who says she paid Barker to take her and her children to Florida.

Fenelus says the trip was aborted after some women on Barker's boat refused his order to jump out in deep water off Palm Beach. When they returned to Freeport, Fenelus says, Barker visited her several times and gave her money to buy food for her children -- although he kept the $1,000 she gave him for the failed smuggling run. ...

Richard and his wife, Angela, had a daughter, Kathrine, in 1989. ...

On March 2, 1993, he was renting a waterfront home in Boynton Beach when his brother Ronald and a man named Bobby Geans pulled up to the dock in a borrowed boat. There were several U.S. Customs agents waiting nearby. The agents moved in as Ronald Barker and Geans unloaded two large picnic coolers. Opening the coolers, agents found them filled with marijuana. The two men were arrested. ...

Four months later, while Ronald was free on bail from his previous drug charge, U.S. Customs agents again positioned themselves outside Rick Barker's Boynton Beach house. Rick Barker pulled up in a 28-foot racing boat.

U.S. Customs agents thought they had a drug bust in the making as they watched the Barker brothers unload two bags from the boat. Once more, they moved in. But this time there were no drugs. Instead, agents found the bags contained soiled clothing, photographs of black people and Haitian identification documents. While court records show the agents suspected the Barker brothers of smuggling Haitians, there wasn't enough proof to make a case.

But in October Richard Barker was again linked to a Haitian smuggling run. This time, five Haitian refugees were found walking along North Ocean Boulevard in the town of Gulfstream. Three of the men later testified they swam ashore from a boat after a night trip from Freeport. Court documents reveal 26 other immigrants aboard the boat were left on Beer Can Island near the Boynton Beach inlet.

The next day U.S. Border Patrol agents moved in on a boat, suspected of having made the smuggling run, as it was pulled from the water at a Lantana marina. The agents found two men aboard the craft and questioned them.

One was Vernon Lockhardt, 52, a Bahamian. Agents arrested him for failing to clear customs. The other man in the boat was Richard Barker. He was released because agents were unable to prove he had broken any laws.

Interrogating the Haitians smuggled into South Florida the night before, agents found evidence they claim linked the refugees to Barker: In one of the refugee's pockets was a scrap of paper with the phone number for Rick Barker's family home in West Palm Beach.

Lockhardt was later found guilty of 31 counts of alien smuggling and sentenced to a year in federal prison. In depositions he made before his trial, the Bahamian identified Richard Barker as captain of the smuggling boat. Despite that testimony, Barker was never charged in the October incident. Federal prosecutors decline to say why.

Barker returned to Grand Bahama Island, having moved into a $1,200-a-month townhouse at the Island Bay condominiums in Freeport.

"Rick was gone most of the time. [His wife] Angela was here most of the time with their little girl," says Harvey Hochstetler, who owns the townhouse complex where Barker lived. "He never talked about his business. ...

Today, Barker is in the Palm Beach County Jail awaiting trial. He declines to speak of his dealings with any Haitians except to say he has empathy for the refugees and what he calls "their plight." "These people don't just leave their country for the islands because they want to, but because they have to. They're fleeing oppression and they are fleeing starvation," Barker says.

He continues to proclaim his innocence in the drowning deaths off Martin County in February. Whatever the result of his trial, Barker's life has already suffered a strange twist.

Shortly after Barker was arrested and jailed without bail, his wife, Angela, left Florida for her mother's home in Georgia. While there, she was stabbed to death by a man outside a nightclub. Barker was unable to leave his jail cell to attend his wife's funeral.

"I never even got to say goodbye," Barker says.


Obviously, Richard Barker did not kill his wife Angela Sizemore Barker. He was in jail at the time of her murder. Nor am I claiming that anyone killed Angela Sizemore on Barker's behalf due to concerns over money or court testimony or whatever.

I am saying, however, that I have less difficulty imagining motive from drug runners and human traffickers than I do understanding the motive attributed to Marcus Johnson.

And I do have less difficulty believing that multiple people killed Angela Sizemore than I have in believing Marcus Johnson is alone responsible for all her injuries.

And I do have less difficulty believing that people other than Marcus Johnson ended up with blood all over their persons, clothing, and weapons, than I have in believing that Marcus Johnson ended up  in pristine condition, except for a single cotton fiber with some blood on it.

In the absence of persuasive arguments to the contrary, I oppose the execution of Marcus Ray Johnson.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! -J

tsj said...

Anonymous J,
Don't you ever sleep?

Anonymous said...

sleep? what a lovely concept.

The Airborne Juror said...


Thank you. My hat is off. Not guilty.

Greetings from Bahrain

Anonymous said...

There was a story that said the defense was trying to get ahold of a new box of evidence and test DNA on it, but haven't heard anything from yesterday on it. I think there should be a stay to look at that evidence.

I don't think he's innocent but the police screwed up and again we have a problem of not having trial documents to know if some of the objections were raised at trial (finger prints). The cops should have obtained a search warrant for Johnson's house and checked for clothing, other knives, and blood in his house. Not sure if they did this or not.


Anonymous said...

Excellent. Wondered why on earth there was so little physical evidence but thought maybe I hadn't read it correctly or had missed something. Thank you. Hope the result is a positive one. It has to be: This is patently absurd.

An English Observer

Anonymous said...

Great analysis! I too was thinking that bloody, messy murders should have more evidence than this one did... or at least, a coherent explanation of why the extra evidence (blood, fibers, DNA) wasn't presented.


tsj said...

Thanks Will.

This two-part format (evidence first, analysis later) is of course a response to your suggestion about how I might use the polls. For what it's worth, both the Skeptical Spouse and I laughed at "Oooooh, a poll!"

Your suggestion caused me to visualize the reader comments as vicarious jury deliberations. I like that a lot. I will employ the two-part format in the future, when appropriate for the case at hand.

Hank Skinner looks like the next debatable case.

Anonymous said...

After I read this case, two things stood out in my mind, which have been mentioned by others in one form or the other.

First, all the usual things that happened connect Johnson to the crime. We have Johnson saying that he hit Sizemore that night and then he tells the police that if he killed her, he did not do it intentionally. He does not remember what he did after he left Sizemore in the vacant lot that night. The prosecutors would have thought it was a slam dunk and proceeded accordingly.

Then we have the unusual things: The lack of physical evidence for such a ghastly act or the unaccounted time gap.

My thoughts are simple.

There are two highly improbable scenarios here.

In one scenario, Johnson performs such an act without leaving a plethora of physical evidence.

The second scenarios requires us to imagine that some other individual or individuals just happened to see Sizemore in that vacant lot immediately after Johnson hit her and then they proceeded to brutalize her, kill her, place her body in her van, drive it to the other side of the town and leave it there. What is the probability of such a coincidence?

Thinking some more, what could make the first scenario possible? Could Johnson clean things up so as not to leave any physical evidence? He admits that he kind of “lost” it. Could he have “recovered” after losing it and then done the cleaning up?

It makes my head spin.

If the state is putting me in this situation to imagine things instead of clearing up the questions that I face, I would go along with tsj and ask: shouldn’t the state go back to the drawing board instead of calling for the lethal injection?

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