Marc Henry Johnson

Producer Marc Henry Johnson has joined writer Lisa Russell to co-produce A REVOLUTIONARY ACT, a new Black Panther feature film based on the words and life of Pete O’Neal—Founder and Former Chairman of the Black Panther Party’s Kansas City Chapter. He’s been living in exile in Tanzania for the past 50 years and is the subject of the award-winning POV documentary, A PANTHER IN AFRICA.
Marc Henry Johnson is a Peabody and Sundance Jury award-winning producer and has executive produced or produced films with Michael Moore, Spike Lee, Amiri Baraka, Mario Van Peebles, Danny Glover, David Simon, and George Pelecanos.

Appearing deflated, emotionally and literally, in a suit that looked like it had become a little too large, the television producer Marc Henry Johnson sat hunched in a metal chair in a courthouse cafeteria on Tuesday morning.

He had just heard his sentence pronounced by a judge upstairs in Federal District Court in Manhattan: 12 months plus a day in prison, a term to begin in late September. He could get out in about 10 months. He had been hoping to avoid prison altogether.

“Does a split-second decision, a split-second lapse of judgment nullify everything I’ve done?” Mr. Johnson, 53, asked. “People make mistakes. I’m human.”

On Oct. 4, 2015, Mr. Johnson had been drinking with friends in the East Village when he and an acquaintance, Dr. Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny, 38, a Long Island dermatologist with three children, visited a cocaine dealer they knew by his nickname, “Pepsi,” who lived in Chelsea.


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Later that morning, surveillance video showed Mr. Johnson and the dealer, James Holder, carrying an unconscious Dr. Cerveny down a hall and to the empty lobby, struggling with her limp frame. They left her in the lobby, and Mr. Holder fled. Mr. Johnson stayed back and called 911, flagging down paramedics when they arrived and pointing them to her body. He then also left, without explaining what had happened.

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Dr. Cerveny died that morning of acute drug and alcohol intoxication. Her friends told detectives that she had been snorting cocaine and drinking for two days before meeting Mr. Johnson. Both men were charged in federal court with moving her body to hide an ongoing drug operation. Both men pleaded guilty.

At Tuesday’s sentencing, as has been the practice throughout the case, the judge, Jesse M. Furman, and lawyers referred to Dr. Cerveny not by name, for her privacy, but as “Individual One” or “the doctor.”

Mr. Johnson, minutes after the sentencing, thought back to that night, and fresh memories seemed to come quickly. He continued to refer to Dr. Cerveny as “the doctor” as others had at the hearing.

He had been celebrating that weekend, having just wrapped up some interviews for a documentary he was making about Sammy Davis Jr. for the PBS series “American Masters” the day before. And three days later, work was to begin on “The Deuce,” a series for HBO produced by David Simon of “The Wire.” Mr. Johnson had brought Mr. Simon the idea seven years ago and was thrilled with its progress.

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It was late Saturday night, then early Sunday morning.

“I couldn’t sleep out of excitement,” he said. “I was on top at this point.”

He received a text from friends at the bar KGB in the East Village, asking him to join them.

“It’s unusual that I would go out like that in a period of work,” he said. He said he had been balancing work and an occasional cocaine habit that began in 1991 when he moved to the East Village, a balance that depended on boundaries.

“And yet, I went,” he said. “I went for last call.”

The group had drinks, and then said their goodbyes outside in the rain, hailing cabs.

“I got into a cab by myself,” he said. “The doctor slides in behind me and asks me which direction I’m going in.” There have been conflicting reports of whether they knew one another; Mr. Johnson said they were acquaintances who had met before. She asked him if they could share the cab and take her to Penn Station for her train to Long Island. He agreed.

Then plans changed, a detour that he addressed in his final two sentences before declining to say more on the matter.

“On the way there, she says she has some time before her train leaves for Long Island, and did I want to hang out?” he said. “So we both jointly decided we wanted to go to Pepsi’s.”

What happened later became clearer on Tuesday with the first public showing of the surveillance video. The video had been sealed, but Judge Furman allowed the video to be shown to reporters in the courtroom before placing it back under seal, expressing concern that it would reach the internet and her children would see it someday. “Not a particularly nice video to watch,” the judge said. Dr. Cerveny’s family did not attend the hearing.

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The video showed the men struggling to drag Dr. Cerveny’s body into a hallway, eventually lifting her by her wrists and ankles, her head lolling toward the floor.
Mr. Johnson called 911, an act that earned faint praise in court Tuesday. He waited too long, Judge Furman said, and the time lost moving her to the lobby — the video from the hall alone lasts a full minute — may have cost her her life, the judge said.
In the video, Mr. Johnson appears heavier than the man sitting in court. Sober 22 months now, he has slimmed. He is in therapy and has passed every drug test he has taken since that night, his lawyers said. Before receiving his sentence, he addressed the court and said: “Drugs ruin lives. Drugs kill. I am committed to carrying this message forward.”
In the cafeteria, he worried less about prison than life after. “I fear for my professional future,” he said.
Mr. Johnson is credited as a co-writer of one episode of “The Deuce,” the sixth of eight. It is scheduled to run on a Sunday night in October. Mr. Johnson will have just begun his third week in prison.

Marc Henry Johnson

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