Grand jury takes no action in 1995 cold case killing of pregnant woman, boyfriend

A grand jury took no action Thursday against a Baton Rouge man in the 1995 killing of a pregnant woman and her boyfriend, clearing the way for him to be released from jail just four months after being booked on first-degree murder charges.

James Iles Johnson, 40, 9058 GSRI Road, was neither indicted nor cleared on two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder. An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury “pretermitted” those charges, meaning it took no action.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office and the Baton Rouge Police Department will continue to actively pursue the case.

“There’s additional investigation to be done for a possible return to the grand jury,” he said.

Johnson has been held without bail on first-degree murder charges in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison since his arrest in December. Moore said his booking status would be changed Thursday and Johnson would be released.

Johnson had denied involvement in the killings as detectives escorted him Dec. 9 to a police unit outside the East Baton Rouge Parish Violent Crime Unit, telling reporters he didn’t know why he was being arrested.

Patricia Jackson, 22, and Lester Yarbrough, 23, were found shot to death Jan. 4, 1995, inside an apartment of the Oak Royale Apartments at 5750 Florida Blvd.

Jackson was pregnant at the time and also had been taking care of her 11-month-old niece when at least two people allegedly burst into the apartment and opened fire in an apparent armed robbery.

Jackson and Yarbrough were both shot multiple times, but the bullet that struck Jackson’s niece, Tyquiwa Spruel, missed her vital organs and did not cause serious damage to her tiny body.

Police reopened the cold case recently and, based on new witness statements and corroborating evidence, booked Johnson with first-degree murder in December.

Ballistic evidence revealed two firearms were used in the double homicide, according to an arrest warrant dated Nov. 23.

The shooting was discovered after a woman living in the downstairs apartment noticed several bullet holes in her ceiling. The woman said at the time that she heard at least four gunshots in the middle of the night but thought they came from outside her building.

When she got up the next morning, however, several pictures on her apartment walls had been shattered, and at least three bullets had pierced her ceiling.

The victims had been dead several hours before they were discovered, and there was an unknown amount of cash strewn about the floor of the apartment, according to newspaper accounts.

According to police, a witness recalled seeing Johnson enter his mother’s home the day of the killings, “crying, cursing and making statements referencing the murders and also that he had shot a baby.”

That information was reported at the time of the fatal shootings, Detective John C. Dauthier, who heads the department’s cold case investigations, said in December, though he added there wasn’t enough corroborating evidence to move forward.

“We were able to find that in our current efforts and secure an arrest warrant,” he said of the corroborating evidence.

The witness, who passed a polygraph test in 1995, recently picked Johnson out of a photo lineup “with 100 percent certainty,” Johnson’s arrest warrant says.