Home News Marine vet sentenced in 38-year-old cold case murder

Marine vet sentenced in 38-year-old cold case murder

Roger Pollard
Screenshot from embedded video

A man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a 38-year-old homicide walked stone-faced into Onslow County Superior Court to be sentenced.

 Gene , 58, of Chesapeake, Virginia stood in an orange jumpsuit and black rimmed glasses listening as details of a young woman’s homicide were recounted to the judge, defense and individuals in the gallery.

 was arrested in 2016 when Onslow County detectives had enough forensic evidence to link him with the death of Karen Johnson, who died April 19, 1979.

He pleaded guilty Aug. 11, but sentencing was delayed to allow Johnson’s family to attend.

 received a minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum of 35 years, which is based on the 1979 statute that applies to the date of the homicide.

“I thought justice was served finally in this case,” Karen’s husband, Gary Johnson, said Friday afternoon. “I saw the way the judge talked to the defendant and the prosecutor, they worked out some type of deal and I really believe that will put () in jail for the rest of his life.”

Johnson’s family and husband attended the sentencing, having driven from Florida and Connecticut to see the man convicted of killing Karen Johnson so many years ago be sentenced.

“I really wanted him to admit it today, that would go a long way. Not in making me feel any better, but just that he admitted it,” Gary Johnson said.

Karen Johnson’s mother said she was relieved following the sentencing.

“I’m just relieved, it’s been a very heavy burden to carry,” Joyce Trevethan said Friday afternoon. “Just to think that () was out living on the streets being a free man was very trying. I feel a sense that justice has finally been done after all these years.”

Trevethan said her daughter’s death left a hole in her tight-knit family, but they’ve united and come together despite the situation.

Johnson was 20 years old at the time of her death, spending the evening alone while her husband, Gary Johnson, was in the field serving as a Marine.

 knew Johnson’s husband was away and came over with a bottle of wine and cards that Tuesday night on April 19, 1979.

The young woman was found the next day severely beaten and bloody, laying on her bed in her home located in what is now Midway Park. Her manner of death was listed as strangulation, according to the autopsy the prosecution recounted.

Detectives immediately suspected  of the crime, but with a lack of sufficient forensic evidence the case lay cold for the next 38 years.

It wasn’t until 2015, in a joint investigation between OCSO, State Bureau of Investigation, and Naval Criminal Investigative Services that the cold case evidence was reevaluated, linking  to Johnson’s death.

A mixture of his blood and hers on the jean shorts she was wearing when she was killed linked him to her death.

In her effort to stave off  assault, the young woman clawed his face repeatedly, drawing blood and creating the link which would convict her killer 38 years later.

Detectives sent Johnson’s clothing to the U.S. Army Criminal Laboratory in Georgia for testing and the results gave law enforcement the link they needed to make an arrest.

Reporter Naomi Whidden can be reached at Naomi.Whidden@JDNews.com or 910-219-8453.


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