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Crime & Justice

Foster son, 16, charged with murder of longtime KSKA radio host

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published October 7, 2014

A 16-year-old Anchorage boy was arrested Tuesday and charged with murder in the death of his foster father, 64-year-old Marvell Johnson, according to Anchorage police.

Officers found Johnson's body with several gunshot wounds around 7:15 a.m. Tuesday in an upstairs bedroom at his home on the 7500 block of Island Drive in East Anchorage. A student had reported the shooting to a school resource officer, said a statement from police.

Police found one of Johnson's foster children, Peter John Henry, asleep in a downstairs bedroom. Henry was detained and taken to police headquarters for questioning, police said.

Johnson was host of the "Soul to Soul" music show on Anchorage public radio station KSKA for nearly four decades. He and his wife, Sheri, raised four biological children, and for at least 25 years, the couple took care of foster children, many of them considered "at-risk," said Johnson's sister, Sarah Jane Johnson.

"They just wanted to give it back, just wanted to pay it forward," she said from her home in Sacramento, Calif.

Investigation revealed that Henry had recently been grounded for using the synthetic drug Spice. He was also angry at Johnson for searching his room and taking his vapor cigarette charger, according to police.

Police said that after the shooting, Henry stole an iPad, watch and phone from Johnson's bedroom. He took cash out of a wallet and left the wallet in front of the home in an effort to indicate a robbery had occurred. Henry asked another boy to help destroy the evidence and threatened to kill him if he didn't comply, police said.

On Tuesday evening, Henry was in custody at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. He faces charges of first-degree murder, coercion, theft and tampering with physical evidence. He will be tried as an adult, police said.

Reached by phone Tuesday evening, former foster child Shyla Fleming, 19, spoke over tears as she recounted the six months she and two younger siblings spent living with Johnson and his wife, whom she referred to as Mr. Marvell and Ms. Sheri.

The four-bedroom home on Island Drive was the last foster home Fleming lived in before returning to her mother's care in 2006. She described it as "the happiest foster home we'd been to."

Fleming said Sheri Johnson is blind. As a family, they would take bicycle rides in the neighborhood, the Johnson couple traveling on a tandem bicycle with Marvell Johnson steering in front.

"They were super nice and he loved his wife, Ms. Sheri," said Fleming, who was 12 at the time. "He would do everything for her."

Chris Turletes, associate vice chancellor for facilities and campus services at UAA, said Johnson worked at the university for about 12 years supervising contract custodians.

"Marvell was always positive, always wanted great things for everybody" Turletes said. "You'd give him a problem, he'd solve it."

In the KSKA studio, Johnson played late-night soul, hip-hop and rhythm-and-blues music during the show he called "Flight Soul to Soul" and co-hosted with his wife on FM 91.1. Over the air, he read dozens of letters from inmates written to people on the outside.

Lori Townsend, news director for the Alaska Public Radio Network, part of the Alaska Public Media group that also includes KSKA, said a staff member received a text message Tuesday about Johnson's death.

"Everybody was just devastated today," she said.

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