Man guilty in killings of pal's parents
Despite the conviction, the case remains open as police suspect accomplice.

March 16, 2002

By GREG HARDESTY and LARRY WELBORN
The Orange County Register,

A jury Friday convicted a former Eagle Scout from Villa Park of fatally stabbing the parents of his best friend as they slept in their Garden Grove home.

Gerald Johnson, 21, the only person charged in a case still under investigation, faces the possibility of life without parole when sentenced May 24.

Three of Johnson's friends, including the dead couple's only child, Joe Najera, 21, have not been eliminated as suspects in the Dec. 29, 1999, slayings.

"I hope you rot in hell!" Gabriel Gonzalez, 21, nephew of victims Jose R. Najera and Elena Castro Najera, shouted at Johnson as deputies escorted the tall, brown-haired man out of the courtroom.

Johnson did not react openly to the verdict. His three-week trial relied heavily on DNA evidence.

A black ski cap found in the bloody bedroom contained Johnson's hair and saliva, and detectives found traces of Jose Najera's blood in a shower at Johnson's home.

"That (DNA) was the overall controlling factor -- that and the trail of blood," said juror Ron Roys of Huntington Beach.

Police believe two people were involved in the killings, with money a possible motive, although $4,900 was found in Elena Najera's purse.

The couple, who ran a construction business, had stashed $77,000 in a safe-deposit box during the Y2K hysteria. Each was stabbed at least 20 times.

"It was a slaughter," Deputy District Attorney Bruce Moore said.

Deputy Public Defender Steven Biskar alleged that Joe Najera had a drug problem and a voracious appetite for strip clubs, so he killed his parents for cash and framed Johnson.

Najera and two friends, Brian Smith and Vincent Torres, refused to testify, citing their right not to incriminate themselves.