When her husband died, Ashley Johnson knew how some people were bound to remember him. His picture was published and broadcast as one of four men arrested for a shooting at Hoopfest in 2010.
Police called it a gang-related shooting, and prosecutors charged the four suspects with about a dozen counts of attempted murder for the number of bystanders who could have been struck by the gunfire.
But in the end, the gunman went to prison and Ashley’s husband, Marquis Johnson, was released from jail.
Now, two months after he died in a car crash, Ashley, 23, wants people to know who her husband truly was, and what his final gift to the public was.
Marquis’ organs were donated. Sixteen of them. Four of them were vital organs, including a heart that Ashley said went to a Spokane man with a young child.
Ashley, who is pregnant with a girl, said her husband never discussed donating organs. He was just 23 years old. Who at that age does? But for his wife, the decision was easy.
“With his personality and how giving and kind he was, I know that’s something he would have wanted,” she said.
Megan Clark, vice president for external affairs at Life Center Northwest, said Marquis’ organs saved four lives.
“In his death, he did save the lives of others.”
Marquis died after the 1994 Chevrolet Blazer he was driving crashed at about 2 a.m. May 26 at North Stone Street and East Main Avenue. He was declared brain-dead and removed from life support.
The crash occurred just blocks from the auto collision repair business JJ’s Auto Collision, which is owned by Ashley’s parents.
Alcohol was a factor. Ashley said she saw Marquis earlier that day as he left their 27th Street apartment to go to Hugo’s and have a drink. He was just going to be gone a short while. He told his pregnant wife he’d be back to help cook spaghetti. But he never showed up. Ashley said she doesn’t know what he was doing that night, but she knows he had a lot of friends and didn’t like to say no to anything, let alone a party.
The Blazer was not his. Ashley said she doesn’t know why Marquis was driving – he doesn’t have a driver’s license, though a Monte Carlo still registered in his name sits in the driveway of her parents’ South Hill home.
Ashley met Marquis in middle school. Her mother, Karla Breesnee, remembers Ashley’s father spending two hours sanding Marquis’ carved name out of her windowsill back then. They reconnected a couple years ago after Marquis was released from prison in June 2010 for a shooting when he was 17 that didn’t injure anybody. They married in April 2011. She’s due to give birth to his daughter, Zuri Imani, on Aug. 28. It will be Marquis’ fourth child.
In between their marriage and his release from prison, Marquis pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in connection with the shooting at Hoopfest and was given an exceptionally low sentence of six months in jail. Court documents described his role in the shooting as merely being present when it took place and in close proximity to the shooter.
Ashley said he was just in the wrong place with the wrong people. He didn’t have a gun with him, and police never accused him of being the gunman. That man, Miguel C. Garcia, is serving about nine years in prison.
Marquis got in trouble again following the Hoopfest assault, this time in Coeur d’Alene when he tossed a salt shaker across a table at a downtown restaurant and it struck a child. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was able to avoid jail time. He hadn’t been in trouble since.
Spokane County Deputy Public Defender Kari Reardon represented one of Marquis’s co-defendants in the Hoopfest case and attended his funeral. She described his death as a “real tragedy.”
“He will never be able to reach his full potential,” Reardon said in an email. “Despite his run-ins with the law, he genuinely cared for his friends and family and would have done anything for those he loved.”
When news of Marquis’ death broke, anonymous people posted comments on online news stories criticizing him and celebrating his death. The comments were crushing to his friends and family.
“They need to know that he was somebody’s son and father and grandson,” Ashley said. “It’s not OK to say that stuff. How would they feel if someone said that about their friend?”
Breesnee said she was wary of her future son-in-law when Ashley introduced her to him. But she grew to love him and said he truly was trying to change to be a better husband and father.
“He wanted to change for her and Zuri, but it’s tough, being an ex-con,” Breesnee said.
Ashley, a hairstylist, has moved out of the apartment she shared with her husband to her parents’ home. She has started therapy and is dedicating herself to raising the baby Marquis was so excited for. Marquis’ hats and a “My heart belongs to Daddy” bib adorn the crib. She also saved a marker board she’d drawn a May calendar on for her and Marquis. Weeks before his death, he randomly picked a date and wrote “I love you.” It turned out to be the last day they saw each other: May 25.
Ashley keeps close to her a quilt provided by Life Center Northwest thanking Marquis for his gifts.
Clark, the spokeswoman for the center, commended the couple’s donation.
“I know that she’s trying to bring some good out of a life that maybe wasn’t lived that well,” Clark said.