Teen denies killing friend's parents

CRIME: He acknowledges, however, in a jailhouse interview that the evidence against him `looks bad.'

January 22, 2000
Byline: BILL RAMS
The Orange County Register, Page A1

Gerald Johnson, accused of killing his best friend's parents, admitted in a jailhouse interview Friday that the growing evidence against him is daunting.

His blond hair and saliva were found in a bloody ski mask near the bodies. Traces of blood were discovered in the shower of his Villa Park home. Johnson also disappeared for about 30 minutes around the time of the slayings, he says, to go on a short jog.

"If I was the jury on this case, I would see myself guilty," he said. "This looks bad."

But trembling and holding back tears, Johnson insisted that he did not kill Jose and Elena Najera on Dec. 28.

"They are great people," he said. "I'm not guilty."

In making his first public statements, Johnson said he was home partying with three friends, including the victims' son, Joe Najera, 19, that night.

Johnson drank a few beers, played some video games and watched the movie "Goonies."

He did not leave to go kill anybody, he said.

But the 19-year-old Mater Dei High graduate acknowledged leaving the gathering in the middle of the night to jog at a nearby junior high school. He initially told police he was sleeping at the time of the killings, awakening long enough only to get some cake and soda.

"It was pretty late and I couldn't sleep," he said.

Johnson acknowledged returning home with mud on his face. "I forgot my keys and had to go around back. I slipped and fell."

Joe Najera said Friday that he hasn't known what to think since his friend was charged two weeks ago with slashing his parents to death.

"Gerald was my best friend," he said. "I loved that guy. He was like my brother, almost. It doesn't fit in my head that he could have done this."

Police believe there were at least two killers because two different weapons were used and blood smears on the walls of the Garden Grove couple's home were made by two types of gloves, court records show.

Nobody else has been arrested.

A month before the killings, Jose and Elena Najera withdrew $66,000 from their bank account and put the cash in a safe-deposit box because they feared Y2K computer problems.

"They were just scared of it," Joe Najera said, declining further comment about the money.

Police also found $4,900 in cash in Elena Najera's purse, which was not taken by the killers.

On Friday, detectives said they are investigating several possible motives for the killings, including those that involve money.

Joe Najera, as well as his parents, could withdraw money at any time from the box, Garden Grove police Sgt. Mike Handfield said. He added that investigators are unsure what role, if any, the money played in the
killings.

Police also are interested in finding out more about why Gerald Johnson had a $20,000 cashier's check in his car.

In the interview, Johnson wouldn't say where the money came from but acknowledged that his parents didn't know he had it. Handfield said Johnson told investigators he inherited it. Johnson said he withdrew the money to give to a girlfriend because he had planned to commit suicide.

He said he had suffered from depression for about a year, had been seeing a psychiatrist and had been prescribed Prozac and other drugs. When detectives told him his friend's parents had been killed, the news hit him hard, he said.

"I started crying immediately," he said. "I thought of my own parents." The next night, after the detectives had taken a hair and saliva sample, Johnson said he had a nightmare about the murders. He declined to describe it.

The following day, New Year's Day, Johnson typed his parents a short suicide note, delivered a letter to his girlfriend and checked himself into a suite at the Irvine Marriott.

He ordered filet mignon at the hotel's restaurant and planned to kill himself after the meal, he said. But he didn't go through with it.

He was arrested 10 days later and was under suicide watch at the Orange County Jail until Friday.

He said he has called Joe Najera from jail, but Najera won't talk to him.

"He hung up on me," Johnson said. "That hurts."

Sitting alone in his cell, devoid of contact from other inmates, Johnson says he sometimes cries as he thinks about what it must be like for his parents, a former Boy Scout leader and a doctor, to have a son accused of murder.

"Right now, I really don't care about much else, except for my parents," he said.