TWIN FALLS — Shocked, extremely depressed, embarrassed, sorrowful, dismayed, numb, anguished, pained.
That’s how Sherry Martin described feeling when she found out earlier this year that her then-husband, chiropractor Robert Max Johnson, was accused of sexually exploiting at least nine women.
“I was beside myself with grief, I was in shock,” Martin said Thursday in an interview on the campus of the College of Southern Idaho, the same campus where Martin met Johnson more than two decades ago.
Now, almost two months after a divorce ended their marriage of 21 years, Martin is speaking out. She wants her ex-husband’s victims to know she sympathizes with their pain; she wants prospective clients to know she respects her profession as a massage therapist and conducts herself ethically and honorably despite what her ex-husband is accused of doing; and she wants the community to know she had no idea what Johnson was allegedly up to.
“I feel horrible that these (victims) had to go through whatever they had to go through,” Martin said. “I wish I could personally express my sorrow to each and every one of them … I wish I could reach out and hug every single one of them. But I also want to let them know, I had no part in this. I didn’t know about it … and I hope they will be able to move on and find peace."
Martin admits that with the benefit of hindsight, she can now recognize warning signs she missed before. And, she said, as police began investigating her husband earlier this year, there were hints that Johnson was not the man she thought he was. But as Johnson’s wife, Martin didn’t want to believe he could do what he’s accused of doing.
“I thought I could trust him,” Martin said. “I thought I knew him, thought he was a decent, good guy. And for the most part he was, or I wouldn’t have married him.”
Then in the weeks leading up to his arrest, she began suspecting he might be in more trouble than he was letting on. A police detective was hounding Johnson, Martin said, and she encouraged him to call the detective back, because she was convinced he was innocent.
But Johnson was avoiding the officer and refused to return his calls, Martin said. The full weight of the situation finally hit her July 5, when officers knocked on her door ready to make an arrest.
“If it was just one isolated thing, it would be really hard to believe it were true,” Martin said. “But if several people are coming out and saying it, it’s hard not to believe them.”
Johnson did not return several calls seeking comment for this story. He’s set to stand trial Nov. 16 on nine misdemeanor counts of sexual exploitation by a healthcare provider.
At Johnson’s arraignment, Martin finally learned her husband was accused of sexually exploiting four clients, all women. At least five more women have come forward since, and Johnson's chiropractic license has been suspended by the state board.
“I was gagging a lot, dry heaving,” Martin remembered of the days following her husband's arrest. “I was literally just sick … This has caused me so much stress, anguish and pain.”
Martin spoke to some of her ex-husband’s alleged victims and knows they were going through something similar, if not worse.
Martin felt paralyzed by the emotions — “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t even think straight for a week” — until finally she realized what she had to do. Speaking with her bishop at the LDS ward she attends, she resolved to file for a divorce, and she did so exactly a week after Johnson was charged with the first four crimes.
Less than a month later, the divorce was finalized.
“We used to make fun of those questionable massage places — I never thought he would end up like them, and worse,” Martin said. “He probably thought no one would ever know, but everybody found out about him.”
‘You shouldn’t be doing massages’
Johnson was born in Twin Falls and attended Twin Falls High School and the College of Southern Idaho, according to the biography on his website. He studied at Boise State University, then went on to Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, where he says he graduated Summa Cum Laude before returning to work in Twin Falls.
Martin is from Brooklyn, N.Y., and came to Idaho in 1985 to attend Ricks College in Rexburg, her biography says. Later, she transferred to CSI, where she met Johnson through LDS church activities.
Back home after his schooling in Iowa, Johnson opened two businesses: Family Chiropractic Clinic of Idaho and BrainCore Therapy of Southern Idaho, a practice that uses therapy based on neurofeedback and is aimed at helping people learn to alter patterns of brain activity.
Practitioners of neurofeedback therapy claim that by learning to control brain patterns, patients can train their brains to treat attention-deficit disorder, depression, schizophrenia, addiction, chronic pain and more.
But there have not been any high-quality scientific studies to back up these claims, and the American Psychological Association said earlier this year the “scientific evidence base for … neurofeedback isn't yet as solid as many clinicians would like.”
While Martin started out helping her husband with his businesses in an administrative role, she later became a licensed massage therapist herself and operated Tranquility Massage out of the same office. But Johnson in recent years started giving more and more massages, Martin said, even though he wasn’t a part of her business.
“He wasn’t involved in Tranquility,” Martin said. “But there were several times I would argue with him, ‘you shouldn’t be doing the massages, that’s my arena’ … I felt like he should be doing his stuff, promoting his things, BrainCore and Family Chiropractic, not digging into my stuff.”
Now she has the answer to the question she always used to ask him.
“Why was he so interested in doing massages?”
Hope for healing
Martin hopes that soon, she can put this all behind her.
“I want to move on with my life, be happy, learn, grow,” Martin said. “I want to just live, but because of his actions, I’m living with consequences beyond my control.”
Martin still sees her ex-husband — they have an adult daughter, and the divorce granted Martin and Johnson joint custody of two dogs. Court documents show they’ve discussed filing bankruptcy jointly because of the business debts they’ve incurred.
Martin now works at Wal-Mart and will soon be starting another job on top of trying to keep Tranquility Massage afloat. She stayed in the couple’s home after the divorce, but there’s a tax lien on the home and she had to take on roommates.
Martin never expected her life to be where it is now, but feels grateful that the first women to accuse her husband were brave enough to come forward so she could finally see the truth. Now, to help her through this ordeal, she’s relying on her faith, and the occasional cigarette, a habit she almost had kicked before this all started.
“My strengthening tactics that I have come to lean on heavily have been my faith, my bishop and his counsel, the reading of the scriptures and going to church,” Martin said. “It’s amazing.”
She said she’s also grateful for friends both new and old who have supported her. But she knows that moving on won’t be easy, and she questions how she'll ever trust a man enough to begin a new relationship. But despite all this, Martin said she’s not angry at Johnson and doesn’t hate him.
“He needs counseling,” she said. “He needs to be rehabilitated.”
More than anything, Martin said, she’s sad for him, the man she loved for so long. She's dismayed and shocked by what he did, and feels awful for the alleged victims.
“My hope is I can find peace and move on, and the victims as well,” Martin said. “I’d like to have a life again, and I like to think I will have one.”