Suspected gold thief's DNA matches that recovered in courthouse

Ami Ridling, GateHouse News Service

DNA evidence collected from a bottle of water thought to have been consumed by one of the courthouse gold thieves matches that of suspect David Dean Johnson, who turned himself into authorities earlier this month.

This and many other much-pondered details about the February 2012 gold heist were revealed Monday through testimony at Johnson’s preliminary hearing, during which the 49 year old El Cerrito man was held to answer to charges against him.

Despite defense attorney Howard Williams' argument that Johnson is not a flight risk, Judge Karen Dixon did not agree and kept his bail at $1 million.

Johnson is charged with second degree commercial burglary with a special enhancement pertaining to the appraised $1.2 million value of items stolen.

During the hearing, lead Detective Yves Pike took the stand and answered questions about DNA test results and the gold case’s alarm failure.

Surveillance footage of the Feb. 1, 2012 heist showed two masked men – one wearing gloves and the other wearing socks on his hands – entered the courthouse in the middle of the night and began prying at the gold display case with crowbars. Then they switched off the lights and completed the job in the dark.

It is alleged that Johnson was accompanied by Scott Wayne Baily, 51 of El Sobrante, during the burglary. There is currently a warrant for Baily’s arrest.

The hearing

During direct examination, District Attorney Kirk Andrus asked Pike to describe the crime scene when he arrived at the courthouse the morning after the burglary.

Pike said he observed a hole glass of the display case and a fire extinguisher on the floor nearby.

He said numerous rare gold pieces and donated jewelry items were gone.

During cross examination, defense attorney Williams questioned Pike about the courthouse security system.

Pike responded that there are 32 security cameras on the exterior and interior of the courthouse, and the gold case was equipped with a motion sensor. It was designed to activate the alarm upon movement or jarring inside the case.

“One of the wires connecting the microphone was not attached as it should have been, so the alarm did not activate when pounding of the glass occurred,” explained Pike.

Williams asked if there was evidence the wires had been tampered with.

Pike said based on correspondence with the alarm company, “The wire was not tampered with, but at some point one of the wires had come loose.”

Pike said there was evidence that the perpetrators had forced entry into the information technology staff room located directly behind the gold display case. Pike said desks and other items had been disturbed.

Pike said an IT office staffer had left two unopened beverages on top of a filing cabinet the day before the burglary. The next morning, one of the bottles of water had been opened and a majority of it had been consumed. The bottle was left sitting on top of the filing cabinet.

Clothing that appeared to be consistent with the clothing one of the burglars was wearing in the surveillance footage was recovered outside of the courthouse, Pike testified. He said authorities collected a black t-shirt and two socks.

Pike told the court the beverage and clothing were sent to the California Department of Justice crime laboratory in Redding for DNA analysis.

A restroom window was discovered open, and this was determined to be the point of entry. Two pry bars were recovered from the restroom trash can, Pike testified.

When the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted to raise the reward from $15,000 to $50,000 for the arrest and prosecution of the gold thieves, Pike said he was immediately contacted by an anonymous informant who alleged that Baily had admitted he and Johnson perpetrated the burglary.

The informant confided that shortly after the burglary, Baily had purchased clothing items, a BMW for $11,000 cash, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and a Ford Mustang for his girlfriend. In addition, Pike said the informant stated Johnson had also recently acquired a new Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Pike said he conducted a financial report on Johnson and Baily, and the report revealed Johnson’s wife purchased a motorcycle for him in February 2012 with $20,000 cash.

When the Sheriff’s Department identified the two men as persons of interest in the case, a search of Johnson’s home was executed, and authorities did not find any items pertaining to the gold theft. Officials did not make contact with Johnson at that time, Pike said.

When Johnson turned himself into the Siskiyou County Jail on April 1, he submitted to a mouth swab for DNA testing. Pike told the court the sample was sent to the crime lab for analysis to determine whether it matched DNA evidence on the water bottle and the clothing recovered outside the courthouse.

“David Johnson’s DNA profile matched the DNA profile collected from the water bottle,” Pike said. Regarding the clothing, Pike said there is “strong evidence” his DNA is also on the t-shirt.

The ruling

Following direct and cross examination, defense attorney Williams said while he’s “sensitive” of the effect the gold heist has had on the community, he requested Johnson’s bail be lowered to an amount ordinarily set for a commercial burglary charge. He pointed out that Johnson turned himself in voluntarily.

“Mr. Johnson has no intention of fleeing,” Williams asserted. “If he had any interest in fleeing he would not have driven back here to turn himself in.”

Andrus maintained that Johnson’s bail should remain set at $1 million. “This burglary was committed in our halls of justice,” he told the court. “The offensive nature of this crime takes this brash act far beyond what we would call a normal commercial burglary.”

Andrus said the rare gold collection represented an important part of the county’s history and the items were donated by individuals who wished to leave a legacy for all to enjoy.

Dixon said burglary can and often is a dangerous crime resulting in injury and even death to the victims. Under the facts of this case, she said Johnson did not pose any immediate danger.

However, “The court is concerned about the danger of flight,” she stated, and ruled bail will remain at $1 million

Johnson was ordered to reappear in court on May 1 for further proceedings.