Not long ago, Marshawn Terell Johnson appeared to have a bright future ahead of him. The Chicago man had graduated high school and been accepted to college. He planned to study sports management, play football and be a good role model for others.
But instead, Johnson will spend the next eight years in a Wisconsin prison for trafficking heroin in Superior.
"Mr. Johnson needs to get the message he cannot come into our community and sell drugs," said Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Thimm during a sentencing hearing earlier this month. "We are not going to tolerate drug dealers from Chicago coming up and selling it here."
Johnson maintained he came to Superior with his cousin, 19-year-old Michael Elijah Jenkins of Chicago, to meet girls. Yet he ran from police executing a search warrant at a home on the 1500 block of Ogden Avenue where large amounts of heroin were found on Oct. 27. Jenkins told police that they brought heroin with them on the bus from Chicago to make some quick money, according to the criminal complaint. They allegedly stayed with Lydia Shanae Higgins, 21, and Matthew Aaron Thompson, 32, providing the couple with free heroin to traffic drugs out of their residence.
On March 16, a jury found Johnson guilty of party to possession with intent to deliver 16.5 grams of heroin with a street market value of more than $2,000. Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bork argued Johnson carried the drugs over state lines - from Illinois to Minnesota to Wisconsin - and that could have made it a federal case.
"This is most certainly not the first individual who has been sent up from Chicago," Bork told the court. "He has not been the last."
Douglas County has at least six open cases involving drugs coming from Chicago for sale in Superior, many of them involving alleged drug dealers selling from the homes of addicts in return for free drugs.
Last Monday, Daryl Williams, 21, of Chicago and Jordan Anthony Achin, 24, of Superior were arrested at a Superior hotel where more than 11 grams of heroin was found. Both made initial court appearances Tuesday on felony charges of party to possession with intent to deliver heroin and possession of narcotic drugs. According to the criminal complaint, Achin rented the room for Williams under his name and allegedly has done the same for out-of-town drug dealers several times before in exchange for free heroin.
At Johnson's sentencing hearing on May 13, Thimm noted that the defendant had been convicted of "a very serious offense. ... Heroin is killing people in our community."
He sentenced Johnson to eight years in prison followed by 10 years of extended supervision.
Johnson has no prior criminal record. No weapons were found at the residence or on the participants. Teachers offered letters of support for the young man and defense attorney Ken Kratz pointed out the loving support of Johnson's mother and aunt.
"The Mr. Johnson sending those letters is not the Mr. Johnson who came to Superior and started slinging drugs," Thimm said. "He made the choice to get on the bus."
And his life took a sudden turn.
"This is a snapshot to everything that's wrong with heroin," said Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank. "That you can have people that have a life, that have a future, that have potential, that have strengths, that take the easy way out to make a quick buck through drug dealing, or to carry the drugs for the drug dealers ... that's a huge problem."
Thimm said he hoped to send a message to Johnson, the community, and the drug dealers targeting Superior that "this behavior is not going to be tolerated."
"We don't care if they're from Chicago," Blank said. "We don't want someone from Duluth coming over; we don't want someone from Solon Springs or Ashland. We don't want anyone bringing heroin here. We don't want a heroin supply at all because sadly we know people will use it, they'll get addicted, they'll have addicted babies, they'll lose their jobs, they'll steal from their families, they'll burglarize cabins and we'll just have a big mess. That's what's going on and we have to stop it."
Jenkins pleaded guilty Friday to a felony charge of party to possession with intent to deliver heroin, according to online court records. He's scheduled to be sentenced on July 14.
Higgins pleaded guilty March 18 to one count of possession of heroin. She was sentenced to two years of probation and three days in jail with the possibility of expunction if she completes probation successfully. She also was ordered to continue treatment and provide a DNA sample. A count of felony party to possession with intent to deliver heroin was dismissed.
Thompson faces felony charges of possession of narcotic drugs and party to possession with intent to deliver heroin. His next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 1.
Achin and Williams will make their next court appearances Wednesday.