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Shayla Johnson

Other Female Ohio Exonerees
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On the afternoon of November 2, 2011, Eva Sanders purchased $20 worth of crack cocaine from her friend and dealer, Carlene Wiley, who was sitting behind the wheel of a car in Cleveland, Ohio. In the passenger seat next to Wiley was 25-year-old Shayla Johnson, whom Sanders had never seen before in the 10 years she had known Wiley.

After Sanders smoked the crack cocaine, she decided she wanted more. She knew that Wiley would give her crack as a commission if she brought a customer to her, so she began walking through the neighborhood looking for a customer.

At about the same time in a nearby parking lot, Cleveland police Detective Mike Duller gave marked money to an informant and equipped him with a body wire so he could listen to the informant’s conversations. Not long after, Sanders approached the informant and offered to buy him crack cocaine. The informant gave $20 to Sanders who walked over to Wiley’s car where she dropped the money into Wiley’s lap. Wiley gave Sanders some cocaine, and Sanders walked away and placed the drug on a ledge of a building where the informant retrieved it.

The informant then signaled Fuller and officers moved in to arrest Sanders, Wiley, and Johnson. The officers searched Wiley and recovered $24 in unmarked money, the $20 marked money from the informant, and a handgun.

Johnson, who was the owner of the car, was searched and officers recovered a cell phone and $466 in cash.

All three women were arrested and charged with drug trafficking, drug possession, and possession of criminal tools.

On May 15, 2012, Wiley pled guilty to drug trafficking and agreed to testify for the prosecution. She was sentenced to two years and six months in prison.

On June 6, 2012, Sanders pled guilty to drug trafficking and also agreed to testify for the prosecution against Johnson and Wiley in return for a sentence of five years of probation.

In August 2012, Johnson went to trial in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas and chose to have her case decided by a judge without a jury. Sanders testified about making the drug purchase that led to the arrest. She said that she did not know Johnson, had not seen her before, and that Johnson was “just sitting there” when she bought the cocaine from Wiley.

Wiley testified that she and Johnson were friends, and that they were going out for the evening. She said that she drove Johnson’s car because she had a valid driver’s license and that she stopped along the way to sell some cocaine. Wiley said that Johnson did not know that she was carrying cocaine or the gun. The drugs were in the waistband of her pants and the gun was tucked in the rear left side of her pants. A large hoodie that was zipped up kept the drugs and gun out of sight.

Wiley said that the transaction with Sanders took place outside of the car—not while she was behind the wheel. Wiley also said that she had not given any money to Johnson that night.

Detective Duller testified that it was common practice for drug dealers to work in tandem with someone who would hold the money—to act as a bank—so that if the person selling drugs was arrested, there would not be a “business loss.” Duller testified that he believed that Johnson, because she was carrying $466, was acting as the bank for Wiley.

On August 12, 2012, the judge convicted Johnson of drug trafficking, drug possession, and possessing criminal tools. She was sentenced to one year and six months in prison.

In June 2013, the Court of Appeals of Ohio reversed Johnson’s convictions. The court found there was insufficient evidence to show she was involved with Wiley. “The state did not identify a single overt act made by Johnson to support its theory that she aided and abetted a crime,” the appeals court said.

The appeals court also said that there was no direct or circumstantial evidence that Johnson was acting as Wiley’s bank. “Speculations are not evidence,” the court said. The court noted that the fact that Johnson was sitting right next to Wiley “cuts against” the detective’s testimony that the purpose of a bank is to keep distance between a drug transaction and the proceeds from that transaction.

“The state's case against Johnson was erected on a foundation of mere suspicion, from which it built inference upon inference upon inference,” the appeals court said. “Such a precarious structure cannot support a conviction.”

On September 15, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Johnson was released.

In 2016, Johnson filed a civil lawsuit in the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas and subsequently was declared a wrongfully convicted person. On August 30, 2018, Court of Common Pleas Judge Patrick McGrath approved the payment of $114,000 in compensation to Johnson from the state of Ohio.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/6/2019
State:Ohio
County:Cuyahoga
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2011
Convicted:2012
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Race:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No