David Simon, creator of the drug-crime drama The Wire, played a role in a real-life crime case last week when he asked a judge to be lenient on an HBO colleague convicted in a deadly drug case.
Producer Marc Henry Johnson pleaded guilty in March for his involvement in a woman’s fatal overdose in New York two years ago. Johnson moved Kiersten Cerveny’s body out of his drug dealer’s Manhattan apartment before calling the police. Johnson is facing up to 10 years in prison for the crime of accessory after the fact.
Simon, who hired Johnson to work on his upcoming HBO show, The Duce, wrote a letter to the judge ahead of Johnson’s sentencing where he said the man doesn’t deserve to be put behind bars.
Simon said his experience as a Baltimore crime reporter and his work on TV shows like Homicide makes him qualified to weigh in on the case.
“I spent a year inside the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit to write one book, and on a West Baltimore corner, in an open-air drug market, to write a second,” Simon told the judge. “I am acutely aware of how problematic it is to wage a policy of drug prohibition while at the same time retaining the cooperation of any community being so heavily policed.”
Though the incident was a tragedy, Simon said Johnson doesn’t deserve to go to prison.
“All of us are singularly responsible for what substances we use or abuse and how we live our lives,” Simon wrote. “Marc is responsible, as was Cerveny, for whom the use of alcohol and drugs was voluntary. I urge you to consider leniency with regard to the defendant.”
Johnson left his apartment at 3 a.m. on October 4, 2015 for KGB bar in Manhattan. That’s where he met up with Cerveny, a 38-year-old dermatologist and mother of three from Long Island. The two came to the apartment of James Holder, Johnson’s friend, later that morning. Johnson was high on marijuana and cocaine when he said he fell asleep.
Johnson woke up to find Cerveny experiencing the symptoms of an overdose, according to a sentencing request. Johnson dragged her unconscious body out of the apartment and down the stairs before calling 911 and leaving her in the lobby outside Holder’s apartment when EMS arrived, the indictment said. It was “the biggest mistake of his life, and one he will forever regret,” Johnson said in a statement from his lawyer.
Cerveny was pronounced dead of a drug overdose shortly after.
Johnson was later arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency and charged by federal prosecutors attempted narcotics distribution and accessory after the fact for moving Cerveny’s body.
“Johnson’s immediate response to seeing a dying overdose victim should have been to summon help. Instead, Johnson helped his cocaine dealer cover up the drug crime by moving the victim’s body,” U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in a statement in after Johnson pled guilty March. ““Instead, Johnson helped his cocaine dealer cover up the drug crime by moving the victim’s body.”
His friends and attorney see that night differently. In a statement, friend William Pitman recounted a conversation with Johnson the day Cerveny died.
“I received a telephone call from Marc and we spoke at length. Marc was devastated and overwhelmed with sadness and pain. He was confused, in a state of disbelief and inconsolable,” the statement reads. “Marc was in a state of shock and his remorse and grief were heartfelt.”
Other friends who wrote letters asking the judge not to give Johnson jail time include actress Jamie Neumann, PBS Executive Producer Julie Anderson and “Hidden Figures” Production Designer Wynn Thomas.
The request, submitted to a federal court in Manhattan, includes statements from his therapist, who said Johnson suffers from “depression and grief issues related to the underlying crime.” The request also describes Johnson’s work and his African American heritage, which he says “is the voice I know and gives me a unique perspective.” Johnson’s lawyer says he has not used drugs since the incident.
U.S. attorney Joon Kim said on Friday in response to Johnson's request for a lighter sentencing witnesses saw Cerveny consuming a dangerously large amount of cocaine, and that Johnson prioritized his friend’s desire to cover up a drug crime over Cerveny’s life.
“Johnson’s decision to help Holder drag [Cerveny]’s unresponsive body to the first-floor vestibule before summoning help was not just obstructionist; it was cruel,” Joon Kim wrote in a response submitted to the judge. “Every second that elapsed between [Cerveny]’s overdose and Johnson’s call for an ambulance was a lost opportunity to try to save a 38-year-old mother of three.”