Suspect announced: Alleged serial rapist faces 21 charges

Suspect announced: Alleged serial rapist faces 21 charges »Play Video
Billy Ray Johnson, 33, a serial rape suspect in Bakersfield, Calif., is seen in a booking photo released Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, by the Kern County Sheriff's Office.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Authorities announced an indictment Tuesday morning in this summer's east-side serial rapist case.

Three rapes and one attempted rape occurred in July and August in east Bakersfield. The suspect's description and methods of attack were similar in each case – the women lived in an apartment complex, and all were bound and then sexually assaulted by a man who wore a black ski mask.

Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said DNA evidence led them to identify 33-year-old Billy Ray Johnson Sr. as the suspect.

"It's a big relief," Rena Vespa told Eyewitness News on Tuesday. "And as a female, an extra big relief."

She's the apartment manager of a complex on Virginia where several of the attacks happened.

Green attributed Johnson with an attempted sexual assault on July 1 in the 2900 block of Virginia and sexual assaults July 18 in the 4300 block of Columbus Street, Aug. 1 on Virginia Avenue and Aug. 19 in the 200 block of Quantico Avenue.

Johnson was arraigned Tuesday morning, before Green announced the indictment, on 21 felony counts, including eight counts related to sexual assault or rape. He's also charged with burglary, robbery, assault with a semiautomitic firearm and false imprisonment.

Johnson, who is being held on $5 million bail on charges brought this week, has actually been in jail since mid-October on other charges.

Green wouldn't give details on exactly how the case was developed against Johnson, but said DNA was the key.

"Once we had some preliminary information, law enforcement was surveiling him," Green said. "Because he was a possible suspect in that (sexual assault) case."

Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson said a special unit from his department was watching Johnson, and spotted him allegedly shooting a gun from a vehicle.

"We arrested this individual as a prior felon with a firearm," Williamson said.

When he was in custody, DNA was apparently the link. The district attorney said since Johnson had a previous felony conviction, his DNA showed up in a database. Green said Johnson has a prior alleged burglary conviction, and also a conviction for domestic violence out of New Mexico.

Chief Williamson said though work on the case was continuing, he understands it may have been frustrating for the public.

"The need to keep some of the information we had confidential probably added to some of the concerns of our citizens," Williamson said. "But, we felt very confident initially that this was quite possibly the suspect."

He said it was the cooperation between his department, the DA, and sheriff's office that produced results.

Sheriff Youngblood agreed with that, and said it was a case that required an intense manhunt,

"This is one of those cases where the public had a right to be fearful," Youngblood said. "This perpetrator was instilling fear in people, making them afraid to be in their own homes at night."

At the apartment complex on Virginia, the manger wanted assurance the rape suspect is in jail right now, and promised she'll put the word out to her tenants.

"I'm so glad he's caught," Vespa said. "It's been tense, everybody's been extra cautious." Other neighbors in the area said they are relieved to hear about the arrest.

And the district attorney takes a similar view.

"I truly feel that the streets of Bakersfield are a little bit safer this holiday season, with the arrest and indictment of Billy Ray Johnson," Green said.