David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” and Harvard historian Louis Gates have weighed in with other friends to urge leniency in the upcoming Manhattan federal court sentencing of producer Marc Henry Johnson for his role in the 2015 drug overdose death of a Long Island dermatologist.
Johnson, who helped create the soon-to-premiere HBO porn-industry drama “The Deuce,” pleaded guilty to moving Manhasset Dr. Kiersten Cerveny from a drug dealer’s apartment after a night of carousing, and leaving her body in a Chelsea building vestibule to help cover up the drug dealing.
Simon, a former Baltimore journalist who is producing “The Deuce,” said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman that despite bad judgment, Johnson deserved credit for calling 911, trying to help Cerveny and only fleeing when EMS arrived, and shouldn’t be punished as the drug dealer was.
“I am genuinely concerned about what the U.S. Attorney’s office is hoping to accomplish,” wrote Simon, who said Baltimore police never charge anyone who calls 911 in an overdose case so those who are involved in drugs aren’t deterred from seeking lifesaving help. “ . . . More people will die on that precedent.”
The letter was part of a sentencing memo filed late Wednesday by Johnson, 53, of Manhattan, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 15. Dealer James Holder was sentenced to 5 years for distributing drugs, but neither man was charged with providing the cocaine that killed Cerveny.
Simon’s letter echoed Johnson’s plea for mercy. His lawyer told Furman that Holder ordered Cerveny out when she started to overdose, while Johnson tried to help her down the stairs, tried to provide CPR and called 911 after he and Holder carried the limp body to the vestibule.
Simon, like Johnson, criticized Cerveny — “All of us are singularly responsible for what substances we use or abuse” — and Johnson’s father, Sinclair Johnson, had even sharper words for the victim.
“Apparently she was on a two-day bender and Marc was only with her for a few hours,” he wrote. “How is my son accountable for her destructive lifestyle? . . . How does it become the United States of America vs. Marc Henry Johnson?”
Gates, who said he taught Johnson when he was an undergraduate at Cornell, devoted his letter to lauding the defendant’s creativity as a producer and his character. “The broader picture of his life makes plain that he is a force for good in our troubled world,” Gates said.
Johnson’s resume includes credits producing with luminaries such as Spike Lee and Michael Moore, but his career has largely tanked because of the criminal charges, according to his lawyer.
In Johnson’s sentencing memo, while he takes credit for doing more than Holder, he admits that he moved a “wobbly” Cerveny out of Holder’s apartment when she became ill, and did not stick around to tell EMS workers who she was, who he was or what had led to her comatose state.
Cerveny died of alcohol and cocaine poisoning. Federal sentencing guidelines call for Johnson to serve 18 to 24 months, according to his lawyer. Prosecutors have not filed their sentencing memo.