Woman sentenced in husband’s jailbreak

Marilynne Johnson

At first glance, Marilynne Johnson appeared to be a conniving felon, helping her husband plan and execute an elaborate jailbreak consisting of hacksaw blades and bedsheets and steering the getaway vehicle to Mexico, where they presumably intended to duck law enforcement.

In the end, though, the attorneys who prosecuted and defended the 48-year-old woman both came to view her and her crime in the same way: a sad case of a woman who was abused and taken advantage of by her husband.

On Monday, a judge sentenced Marilynne Johnson to six years in prison for helping her husband slip away from the Mesa County Jail in 2008.

The escape of a man District Attorney Pete Hautzinger famously dubbed a “one-man crime spree” prompted the jail to undergo an audit and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department to install razor wire atop the exterior fence and make other improvements.

The sentence handed down by District Judge Richard Gurley represented the maximum amount of time Marilynne Johnson could have received under a plea agreement with prosecutors. She pleaded guilty last month to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit escape. Two other counts were dropped, and the agreement called for her to receive between two and six years in prison.

As part of the agreement, she also agreed to provide a statement to authorities explaining her role in 42-year-old Shane Johnson’s escape and her knowledge of anyone else’s involvement in the escape.

Marilynne Johnson was the getaway driver in the Sept. 9, 2008, jail escape, which came days before Shane Johnson faced a virtual life sentence for a variety of felony crimes.

Shane Johnson used a hacksaw blade to cut through the ceiling of an exercise yard and slid down an outside wall of the jail on bed sheets that were tied together. He also used bedding to create the illusion of a person sleeping in his bed to try to fool jail detention officers, according to court records.

The Johnsons were apprehended in January 2009 in Baja California, Mexico.

Deputy District Attorney Todd Hildebrandt said Johnson’s prison sentence represented “an important message to send to the community that helping people escape from the jail is something judges here aren’t going to tolerate.”

At the same time, he said it was clear that Shane Johnson took advantage of his wife.

“He made her feel like he loved her,” Hildebrandt said.

“I think that even law enforcement agreed that she was a pawn of Shane Johnson’s,” said her attorney, Marna Lake, alleging that Shane Johnson abused Marilynne both physically and mentally after his escape.

Hildebrandt said that prior to sentencing, Marilynne Johnson apologized and said she would accept whatever punishment Gurley felt was appropriate.

He said the FBI has informed prosecutors that Shane Johnson remains in custody in Mexico,  awaiting sentencing on several burglaries he committed there. He said he doesn’t know when Shane Johnson will return to Mesa County.


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