Charges that included sexual battery and armed robbery against a man accused of attacking a woman in an alleyway next to her Cleveland Avenue home were supported by the evidence collected at the time, a judge ruled Tuesday, allowing a case against the suspect to proceed.
In a hearing Tuesday, Magistrate judge Harry Cantrell found that detectives had probable cause to charge James Johnson, 21, with aggravated assault, armed robbery, sexual battery and simple kidnapping in connection with the April 1 attack on a woman on Cleveland Avenue near South Dorgenois. Cantrell also upheld a separate set of charges of aggravated rape, armed robbery, aggravated burglary and false imprisonment against Johnson in a April 9 attack on a woman in her home on Hickory Street in the Carrollton area, but the outcome of a third case against him — an April 4 home-invasion on Panola Street — remains pending.
In the Cleveland Avenue case, the victim was about to leave her house when she saw a figure through the window in the door, testified NOPD Detective Stephanie Taillon on Tuesday. Thinking it was her sister, she opened the door and found a man she didn’t know standing there instead, asking how to get to Dauphine Street, Taillon said. Her dog joined her by her side, and after another moment, the man left, Taillon said.
“The entire time, he kept his eyes on her dog,” Taillon said under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Mary Glass.
The woman then finished her own preparations to leave, stepped outside, closed the door behind her and locked it, Taillon said. As she turned back toward the street, the same man was there again, now holding a small handgun, Taillon said. He demanded her money, and when she said she didn’t have any, he took a cup out of her hand and set it down on the porch, then forced her into the small alleyway between her home and her neighbor’s, Taillon said.
The man continued demanding her money, pointing to the ATM cards in her wallet and demanding her PIN number, Taillon said. At the same time, he stripped her of her clothing, laid her naked on the ground, and tied her up with her own clothing and belt — sexually assaulting her with the gun he was holding, Taillon said.
The victim’s dog was barking inside the house, as was the neighbor’s dog, apparently making the attacker nervous.
“The whole time, the perpetrator was asking, ‘Is that dog going to get to us? Is your dog going to get to us?'” Taillon testified.
The attacker threatened to put the victim in the trunk of her own vehicle and drive her elsewhere, but after around 10 to 15 minutes, he stopped and left instead, leaving her still bound and gagged on the ground, Taillon said. It took her a while to free herself, but once she did so, she ran into the street screaming for help, and two neighbors heard her and wrapped her in a robe and a sheet, Taillon said.
When police officers arrived, they found her wrists still bound so tightly that her hands were starting to change color, Taillon said. She was too traumatized to give police a statement at the time, but the next day was able to give Taillon a thorough description of the suspect, Taillon said.
About a week later, when Johnson was allegedly caught in the act of raping a woman in her home in the Carrollton neighborhood, Taillon realized he fit the description of the Cleveland Avenue suspect, she said. Taillon met with the victim, who picked Johnson out of a photographic lineup, the detective testified.
On the day of the attack, a nearby resident told police she had come out of her house to find her driveway blocked by a large Mercedes delivery van, and that she then saw a man hurriedly returning to it, Taillon said. The woman began yelling at the man not to park like that, and another neighbor came out to see the uproar, Taillon said. The man quickly got in the van and drove off without responding to them, but the witnesses were later able to identify him as Johnson and the van as the same stolen vehicle Johnson had a key to when he was arrested, Taillon said.
Evidence collected in the case, Taillon noted, includes DNA swabs of all the victim’s clothing and her purse, as well as the cup he placed on the porch. Those tests are still pending, she said.
Defense attorney Amanda Fraser’s cross-examination of Taillon did not challenge the detective’s account, but simply sought clarification on the timeline of the investigation. After it concluded, she acceded to the probable cause for the original charges without argument.
After Cantrell found probable cause in the Cleveland Avenue case and the Hickory Street case, he decided to postpone a decision about the charges in the Panola Street case to hear more testimony next week. No date has been set for trial.