A D.C.-area man

Man faces 30 years for beat­ing death of Tri­cia McCauley in D.C.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KEITH L. ALEXAN­DER AND PETER HER­MANN

pleaded guilty in the fa­tal beat­ing of a lo­cal ac­tress and yoga in­struc­tor on Christ­mas Day last year.

A Wash­ing­ton-area man on Wed­nes­day ad­mit­ted guilt in the fa­tal beat­ing of a well-known lo­cal ac­tress and yoga in­struc­tor on Christ­mas Day last year.

Duane Adrian John­son, 30, was a stranger to Tri­cia McCauley, and po­lice say he con­fronted her as she was headed to meet fel­low mem­bers of the Dis­trict’s the­ater scene at a hol­i­day party. The 46-year-old McCauley never ar­rived, and friends be­gan to worry and re­ported her miss­ing.

McCauley’s body was later found in the back seat of her white Scion. She had been bru­tally beaten and stran­gled, and her legs had been bound with a seat belt, po­lice said. She also had been sex­u­ally as­saulted.

On Wed­nes­day in D.C. Su­pe­rior Court, John­son pleaded guilty to first-de­gree felony mur­der. He faces a 30-year prison term when he is sen­tenced by Judge Hi­ram PuigLugo on Nov. 17.

Speak­ing from his home in Ore­gon, McCauley’s fa­ther, Henry McCauley Jr., said he thinks a 30year sen­tence is “suf­fi­cient.” He said he chose not to at­tend the hear­ing but has been in touch with pros­e­cu­tors and po­lice and sup­ported the plea deal.

The re­tired Air Force of­fi­cer paused briefly as he added the prison sen­tence to John­son’s age, not­ing the de­fen­dant would be about 60 years old when re­leased.

“He’ll be an older man,” Henry McCauley said. “We’re just not the type of peo­ple who want to see vengeance.”

It has never been clear how Tri­cia McCauley en­coun­tered John­son, who, ac­cord­ing to his fam­ily, suf­fers from men­tal ill­ness and was liv­ing on the streets. Henry McCauley said it would have been in his daugh­ter’s na­ture to try to help some­one like the de­fen­dant.

“She was very sym­pa­thetic to peo­ple who had noth­ing,” he said.

Af­ter John­son was ar­rested, ac­cord­ing to charg­ing doc­u­ments, he told po­lice that McCauley had of­fered him a ride. He said he and McCauley had sex and that after­ward she com­mit­ted sui­cide by hang­ing her­self with a seat belt. He then told de­tec­tives that he drove around the city with McCauley’s body in the back seat and that he thought she was “sleep­ing” and would “wake up.”

John­son’s guilty plea marks a dra­matic shift for the de­fense. Af­ter John­son’s ar­rest, his at­tor­neys with the Dis­trict’s Pub­lic De­fender Ser­vice had re­peat­edly ar­gued in court that their client was men­tally ill and that po­lice ar­rested an in­no­cent man who had noth­ing to do with McCauley’s death.

The plea came be­fore John­son was in­dicted by a grand jury. “Prein­dict­ment” plea agree­ments are of­ten seen fa­vor­ably by pros­e­cu­tors and judges. Had John­son been found guilty at trial, he would have faced more than 60 years in prison. The plea deal is not fi­nal un­til it is ap­proved by the judge at sen­tenc­ing.

At Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing, As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney David Misler re­counted de­tails of the crime. Misler said that once McCauley was inside the car with John­son, he beat her re­peat­edly in her face, frac­tur­ing her nose. John­son sex­u­ally as­saulted McCauley and choked her with the scarf she was wear­ing, the prose­cu­tor said.

McCauley, Misler told the judge, kicked and punched John­son but was un­able to fight him off. McCauley died of stran­gu­la­tion and blunt-force trauma to her head and body.

When her body was found, her legs were tied to­gether at her calves with the rear seat belt. She was wear­ing black stock­ings that were torn above the knees. Her shoes were miss­ing and have not been found.

John­son’s DNA, Misler said, was found on McCauley’s body.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, John­son gave brief an­swers to the judge’s ques­tions. He re­peat­edly turned to look to­ward the court­room gallery, but it was not clear why.

John­son has a long record of ar­rests, mostly for theft and non­vi­o­lent crimes, in the Dis­trict, Mary­land and Vir­ginia. Court files con­tain no­ta­tions of pos­si­ble men­tal ill­ness, though he has been ruled com­pe­tent in the past.

The day McCauley went miss­ing, a Sun­day, she had pre­pared a pie and her sig­na­ture Brus­sels sprouts to take to the Christ­mas din­ner. When she failed to show, her friends and fam­ily launched a search for her, scour­ing city blocks.

Late the next night, a man walk­ing his dog near Dupont Cir­cle spot­ted McCauley’s white twodoor Scion iQ with its “Plant more plants” bumper sticker. He called po­lice.

Po­lice found the car a few min­utes later parked in the 2200 block of M Street NW in the West End area. In a nearby CVS store, they con­fronted John­son, who had been spot­ted driv­ing the Scion. A po­lice re­port says that an of­fi­cer asked John­son for the keys and he handed them over. McCauley’s credit cards were also found in John­son’s pock­ets.

Also as part of John­son’s ex­pected sen­tence, he would have to reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender for life and be un­der su­per­vi­sion upon re­lease from prison.

Henry McCauley said he and other rel­a­tives had vis­ited his daugh­ter in the Dis­trict in Oc­to­ber, two months be­fore she was killed. His fam­ily is do­ing okay, he said, and Tri­cia is fre­quently on their minds.

McCauley said that in her last years, his daugh­ter had all but stopped with the­ater work, had gone back to school to earn a mas­ter’s de­gree and was turn­ing full time to work as a nu­tri­tion­ist.

“We talk freely about her life,” he said. “She led a very pro­duc­tive and good life.”

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