Man serving 50 years for rape, kidnapping indicted in 1997 Goetcheus brothers slayingView 8 Photos
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After 20 years of whittling down suspects, authorities believe they've finally cracked the mystery of who shot and killed brothers Sean and Donny Goetcheus in January 1997.
District Attorney General Neal Pinkston announced Tuesday that a grand jury returned an indictment against Christopher Jeffre Johnson for the double slaying of the Goetcheus brothers. Although an indictment doesn't mean a case is officially solved, Tuesday's announcement signaled an enormous moment for friends, family members and investigators who have waited two decades for an arrest.
Johnson, who is serving a 50-year state prison sentence for rape and kidnapping, shared some decent leads with Chattanooga police detectives during a lengthy prison interview in 1999, authorities said.
None of those led to a resolution of the Goetcheus puzzle, but Johnson, 52, remained on law enforcement officers' radar.
He resurfaced in 2011, when authorities arrested Johnson for taking two girls, ages 13 and 14, to a fast-food restaurant on Browns Ferry Road in Lookout Valley, then taking them to a wooded area behind a Wilcox Road address, binding them with duct tape and sexually assaulting them. He pleaded guilty to related charges in 2014.
Then, a grand jury indicted Johnson in January in the killing of Missy Ward, 33, whose remains were found by a local defense attorney on Cash Canyon Road in 2004. Afterward, he spoke with authorities four more times.
All of which led to his indictment in this case.
"It's been 191/2 years of hell," said David Goetcheus, the boys' father, during a Tuesday news conference. "But we've closed a chapter. We know what happened. This is Lucifer walking on the face of the Earth."
On Jan. 9, 1997, police found Sean and Donny Goetcheus shot to death inside a home at 3207 Rosemont Drive where they were living.
Sean, 25, had nearly finished his certification as a gem specialist and worked at a Brainerd Road gold and diamond store with owner Rick Davis, whose then-girlfriend owned the Rosemont Drive property. Donny, 19, planned to start classes at Chattanooga State the next week, had a 14-month-old daughter and was crashing on the couch.
Surrounded by law enforcement partners, Pinkston described what he believed happened that night: Sean had a videotape that showed Davis involved in illegal activity. Pinkston didn't say what the videotape showed or why Sean had it — only that Johnson took money over to the house to buy it.
During the encounter though, Johnson got angry and shot Sean, Pinkston said. And when Donny called out in confusion from the bathroom, Johnson allegedly kicked down the door and shot him, too, in the head and face.
Over the years, Pinkston said, "we eliminated all other suspects. But we never could eliminate [Johnson]," who remains in custody in a Bledsoe County correctional facility for the foreseeable future.
Pinkston said parts of the investigation are still ongoing. For instance, he said investigators haven't recovered the alleged videotape "although we've had search warrants to try and find it."
He noted investigators have interviewed Davis, who faces no criminal charges in the case.
Davis and Johnson knew each other through his jewelry business, Pinkston said. And Sean had two "previous interactions" with Johnson. But Pinkston didn't elaborate much further on how they knew each other.
Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Davis said he never knew there was a tape. He called Sean Goetcheus a son to him and denied ever knowing or doing business with Johnson.
"When I seen this guy's picture, I didn't know him from Adam," Davis said.
Then why would Pinkston say Davis and Johnson knew each other through business?
"I don't know what he would have said that for," Davis said.
Davis and his girlfriend and uncle were the first to find the boys in their home in 1997. He wanted to cooperate with law enforcement and took a polygraph test, he said.
In the Tuesday phone interview, Davis said he took the test six months ago, and then corrected himself, saying it was two months ago. Either way, after two hours in the Cold Case Unit building, "I passed with flying colors," he said.
Davis had little to say about the allegation that he and Johnson had a relationship through the jewelry store.
"We went through all that at the polygraph the thing about Johnson and did he have any kind of affiliations and had I done anything with him."
A lawsuit filed in Hamilton County Chancery Court in 2013 states Davis either had or illegally passed along a $20,000 platinum and diamond ring that was stolen from a woman's home. Specifically, Jamie Graham told a Walker County, Ga., detective that she and her husband burglarized homes on Lookout Mountain for three years and sold some of the items to Davis at his Brainerd Road store, the lawsuit says.
According to court documents, Davis ended up paying a $250 fine for not keeping accurate records of the jewelry purchased at his store — a violation of Tennessee law.
After the news conference Tuesday, additional family members and friends of the Goetcheus brothers said they wanted to remember the boys in a positive light.
Frank Chambers, once married to the boys' birth mother, wrote out a list of memories. A self-taught classical musician, Sean had a rebellious streak that seemed to lie dormant when he returned from Florida, he said. Chambers also included a memory of Donny from a trip to visit his mother's retired parents in Deltona, Fla., for Christmas in 1991:
"Donny had gotten into Vanilla Ice and other hip-hop music by this time, which his mother and I did not really care for," Chambers wrote. "However, one day, he asked me what he could give her for Christmas and I suggested he write song lyrics for her and sing it to 'Ice, Ice, Baby' as a goof. Surprisingly, he said he wanted to do it, but didn't know what to write, so I helped him compose the lyrics.
"He asked me to back him up with hip-hop sounds when he performed for everyone that Christmas. It was great fun, and I believe Donny totally accepted me from then on. The following spring, he started listening to my Doors, Led Zeppelin, and other classic rock music CDs.
"Before long, he began playing them for several of his classmates, which made me very happy."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.