Man Admits Actress' Christmas Day Murder In Washington DC

Tricia Lynn McCauley was a popular Washington actress who taught yoga and herbalism and often fed neighborhood children vegetables from her Bloomingdale garden.

Duane Johnson had struggled with mental illness since he was young, his attorneys said, and had been in and out of local hospitals whenever his insurance coverage lapsed, eventually ending up homeless and abusing illegal drugs and alcohol.

Last Christmas, McCauley and Johnson crossed paths as strangers in an encounter that ended with Johnson climbing into McCauley’s car and brutally beating and raping her before strangling her with her scarf.

In D.C. Superior Court on Friday, a judge sentenced the 30-year-old Johnson to 30 years in prison after he admitted killing the 46-year-old McCauley and then driving through the city in her car with her body in the back seat.

For months in court hearings, attorneys for Johnson argued that he was mentally ill and not responsible in McCauley’s death. In September, Johnson pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for her killing, but has not said how the two met that day or how he entered her car.

Tricia Lynn McCauley, 46, of the District, was found dead on Dec. 27, 2016. (Metropoliitan Police Department)

About 30 of McCauley’s friends filled three rows in court Friday, while on the other side of the courtroom a handful of Johnson’s relatives, including his mother, sat beside staffers from the District’s Public Defender Service.

The 30-year term was part of a plea deal reached by both sides and with the agreement of Mc­Cauley’s family members, who were not in the courtroom Friday. Before the sentence was imposed, several of McCauley’s friends tearfully spoke to the judge about their friend and her life, with several saying her death stemmed from a failure to address mental illness.

“The mentally ill have fallen through the cracks. I hope the city changes the practices,” said one of McCauley’s friends, Erin Heramb, looking at Johnson. “I hope you receive the proper treatment. I hope you never do this again. You have affected an entire city.”

Another of McCauley’s friends, Elise Foster, said that for the first time in her 13 years living in Washington, she is afraid. She no longer walks alone and rides her bike everywhere. She avoids areas of the city where she says she feels “unsafe.” She is seeing a grief counselor and takes self-defense classes.

“I no longer feel at home here. I don’t feel at home in a city where this could happen,” Foster said, wiping away tears. She then recalled something McCauley would always tell her. “Breathe. And look up,” Foster said, then smiled.

[Man admits to killing local actress]

Before leaving for a holiday party last December, prosecutors said, McCauley packed her suitcases in preparation for a next-day flight to Las Vegas to visit family. She updated her Facebook page and said she was headed to her friend’s get-together, having made a pie and her signature Brussels sprouts.

McCauley never arrived. Her friends began to worry and reported her missing.

Johnson, prosecutors say, somehow got inside McCauley’s vehicle as she was departing from her apartment at about 5:30 p.m. on Christmas Day.

At just over five feet tall and 120 pounds, the petite McCauley obviously put up a fight against Johnson, who is 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, court records state. Her body was found in the back seat of her white Scion. She had been beaten and strangled, and her legs had been bound with a seat belt.

[Man charged with murder in death of D.C. actress]

Johnson was arrested a day later. He was located in a Northwest pharmacy; McCauley’s car was parked outside, and he had its key, according to charging documents.

The documents state Johnson told police that McCauley had offered him a ride and that he and McCauley had consensual sex before she committed suicide by hanging herself with a seat belt. He then told detectives that he thought she was “sleeping” in the back seat and would “wake up,” the documents state.

Prosecutors said that a forensic investigation revealed Johnson’s DNA under McCauley’s fingernails and that his DNA also was found on the scarf McCauley was wearing, which detectives said he used to strangle her.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Misler called the case “tragic” and requested that in addition to the mandatory 30 years of prison, without possibility of early release, Johnson also be placed on lifetime supervised release.

Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo instead ordered Johnson to spend 30 years under court monitoring upon his release.

Johnson chose not to address the judge or McCauley’s friends. Instead, he allowed one of his attorneys, Jacqueline Cadman, to speak for him.

Cadman cited her client’s years of mental illness, culminating with him sleeping on public benches and using drugs, including in the days before he killed McCauley. Cadman said that Johnson at some point spent a week in a hospital for his mental health problems but was discharged when his insurance coverage ran out.

Once Johnson was put on proper medication administered in D.C. jail and began working with a jail social worker, Cadman said, he was a “different person” than he was at the time of his arrest — and that change was the reason he pleaded guilty early in the case.

“Mr. Johnson is truly, sincerely, genuinely remorseful for what has happened,” she said.

When the judge asked Johnson if there was anything he wanted to add, he declined. “I’d rather rest on what my attorney shared,” he said.

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