Ronald William Free, 45, entered a guilty plea today for the murder of Carol Johnson, 34, of Warner Robins. He entered his plea to the murder and the underlying felony offense of burglary before Judge George F. Nunn, Jr. of Houston Superior Court. Free was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
On December 23, 1995, Free broke into Mrs. Johnson's house located at 101 North Avenue in Warner Robins. Johnson later arrived home and surprised Free who was in the process of a burglary. In an attempt to subdue her, Free began to fight with Mrs. Johnson. During the fight, Free stabbed Mrs. Johnson repeatedly with a knife. She bled throughout the house and eventually died on the floor of her bedroom.
The case was investigated extensively by Lt. Scott McSwain and the Warner Robins Police Department. During the examination of the crime scene, it was determined that a window in an adjacent bedroom had been broken and there was blood on the wall next to it. Also, a set of bloody fingerprints was found on the door of the bathroom.
Despite numerous leads, the case remained unsolved until 2007 when it was determined that the DNA from the blood next to the window matched Free's DNA which was cataloged in the state database (Free was in the prison system at that time for an unrelated offense). A fingerprint comparison was then performed with the prints from the door and a match with Free was made. Based on this information, Free was arrested and charged for the crimes against Mrs. Johnson. Free later gave an interview in police custody during which he admitted to breaking into that house.
District Attorney George Hartwig, along with his staff and the investigators from Warner Robins Police Department began reviewing this case in 2011 (when Mr. Hartwig assumed office) and were able to consolidate both the physical and forensic evidence collected from the crime scene to proceed with the indictment and prepare the case for trial.
Hartwig commented, “It is unfortunate that this case took this long to come to a resolution, but thanks to the advances in forensic DNA science and other forensic techniques, we were able to definitively connect Mr. Free to this awful crime. I am grateful for the diligence of members of my staff, Lt. McSwain, and the members of the Warner Robins Police Department, both present and past, who continued to pursue justice for Mrs. Johnson and her family. We are committed to the work of holding people like Mr. Free and others like him accountable and seeing that they are punished as they deserve.”
Mr. Free was represented by attorney Jeff Grube of Warner Robins. Questions regarding this case may be directed to District Attorney George Hartwig at 478-218-4810.