Best friend pleads not guilty

CRIME: Teen is charged with slaying the mother and father of a pal. DNA evidence is key.

April 25, 2000
Byline: BILL RAMS
The Orange County Register, Page B5

A teen-ager accused of slashing his best friend's parents to death pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that could lead to the death penalty if he's convicted.

Gerald Johnson, 19, allegedly stabbed Jose and Elena Najera to death Dec. 28 in their Garden Grove home. His hair and saliva were found in a bloody ski mask near the bodies, police said. Traces of the victims' blood were discovered in the shower of his Villa Park home, according to reports.

Johnson also disappeared from a party at his house for a short period about the time of the killings.

He has said he went for a short jog.

On Monday, his defense attorney said he plans to attack the method prosecutors used to test the DNA evidence -- a method he said hasn't been approved by the courts.

But the prosecutor said the lab can retest another sample using the old method, if necessary.

In a jailhouse interview two months ago, Johnson denied killing the couple, but the Mater Dei High School graduate acknowledged that the evidence against him is daunting.

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

Police suspect Johnson had help because two types of glove prints were found in blood smears on the wall of the Najeras home.

Nobody else has been arrested or named as a suspect.

Johnson had been partying with the couple's son, Joe Najera, and two other friends, all Mater Dei graduates, the night of the killings.

An autopsy showed that Jose Najera had been stabbed 24 times, his wife 21 times.

Johnson is scheduled to return to court Sept. 15 for a pretrial hearing.