Crime & Justice

Judge sets bail at $500K for foster son charged with murder of KSKA radio host

A 16-year-old boy was arraigned Wednesday in Anchorage on murder, coercion and theft charges in the shooting death of Marvell Johnson, his foster father and a longtime local radio host.

According to police, Peter John Henry shot 64-year-old Marvell Johnson several times in the foster family's East Anchorage home, then fell asleep in a downstairs bedroom, where officers found him early Tuesday morning.

In jail court Wednesday, Henry quietly paged through the charges against him. He told Judge Jennifer Henderson that he was not employed. When asked if he had assets or money of his own in a bank, he responded, "Um, I don't think so."

Henderson set Henry's bail at $500,000 cash, in line with a request from Gustaf Olson, a state prosecutor.

Olson told the judge that Henry "presents the most serious of dangers to our community, as reflected by this premeditated crime."

When Henry spoke to police Tuesday, Olson said, "he had just a stone-cold demeanor when he described how easy it was for him to kill Marvell (Johnson)."

A woman in the courtroom who identified herself as Henry's mother left quickly after the arraignment, crying as she walked out the doors. She declined comment.

Henry faces charges of first-degree murder, coercion, tampering with physical evidence and theft. He is being tried as an adult. If convicted of first-degree murder, Henry could face from 20 to 99 years in prison.

On Wednesday night, Henry was in custody at the Anchorage Correctional Complex with a court date scheduled for Thursday.

Shooting reported through school officer

Police say the investigation into Johnson's death began Tuesday morning.

At about 7:15 a.m. police received a report from a school resource officer at Bartlett High that a student told her Henry had shot his foster father during the night, according to a complaint filed by Monique Doll, an Anchorage police detective.

When officers entered the home on Island Drive in East Anchorage, they found Johnson's body with multiple gunshot wounds, face down on a bed in an upstairs room, Doll wrote.

In a downstairs bedroom, police found Henry asleep. He was taken to police headquarters for questioning.

Doll wrote that Henry told detectives he went upstairs Tuesday with the intent to shoot and kill Johnson. He said he was angry with Johnson for searching his room and taking his e-cigarette charger.

Henry said he stole ammunition from a local department store, Doll wrote. It was unclear where Henry obtained the gun.

The student who reported the crime -- whom Doll referred to as "the juvenile" in the complaint -- said he woke up in the house to the sound of several loud bangs early Tuesday, Doll wrote.

The boy said Henry was recently grounded for using Spice, a "designer" drug that is illegal in Anchorage. He said Henry told him the night before that he was going to kill Johnson, but he didn't believe him, Doll wrote.

He said Henry admitted to shooting Johnson and told him he would kill him if he told anyone, Doll wrote.

The boy told detectives "Henry gave him the murder weapon and told him to 'put it in the water' -- meaning a nearby creek," Doll wrote. Henry also instructed him to take the home's surveillance system, put it in the bathtub and run water over it.

Henry told detectives he wanted the boy to put the gun in the creek in order to "wash off the fingerprints," Doll wrote.

In efforts to make it look like the home had been robbed, Henry said, he stole Johnson's wallet, iPad, watch and phone, throwing the wallet's contents in front of the home, Doll wrote.

"Henry stated he put the iPad and watch into his backpack -- intending to sell it at a later date," she wrote.

Foster parent to more than 100 kids

At Johnson's home Wednesday -- more than 24 hours after the shooting -- an American flag hung outside and a sign in a flower bed warned of the home's security system. A red pickup was parked in the front driveway, a San Francisco 49ers sticker on its back window.

Johnson lived in the home with his wife, who his sister, Sarah Jane Johnson, said was out of town the night of the shooting. Between the two of them, Marvell Johnson and his wife raised four children, she said.

Information on how long Henry lived with the Johnson couple is confidential, said Susan Morgan, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Karen Forrest, director of the state's Division of Juvenile Justice, said Johnson had been a foster father to more than 100 children in Alaska, primarily those coming out of the juvenile justice system.

"It really takes a foster parent who has the heart and the skill to work with teenagers who are having difficulty. So, Mr. Johnson was a wonderful foster parent and we're so sorry to hear that this has happened," Forrest said.

Johnson worked by day as a custodial services supervisor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

On Saturdays, he took to the studio as volunteer host of "Soul to Soul," a late-night mix of soul, hip-hop and rhythm-and-blues music on Anchorage public radio station KSKA. Between tracks, Johnson read letters written by prisoners to people on the outside.

Reggie Ward, host of "Friday Night Mix" on KNBA, said he and DJ Rick Neal will fill in on Johnson's radio show at 10 p.m. this Saturday to pay tribute to the man who taught him much, including the art of radio production and "how to give back and be humble."

"Marvell was a foster parent and he was a foster parent for over 100 kids," he said. "He didn't do that for the money, he did it because he has a huge heart. He was just a loving, giving-back type of guy."

In an unpublished interview in 2012 with the Anchorage Daily News, Johnson said he began as a foster parent in 1992, typically taking in teenage boys.

"When you have kids you raise that aren't yours, you do the best you can," Johnson told a reporter. "Whatever you do, you do it good."

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.