ARLINGTON, Va. — Two men have been accused of murder-for-hire in the unsolved 1998 killing of a Virginia woman found dead in her apartment.
James Christopher Johnson, 59, of Alexandria, and Bobby Joe Leonard, 53, are each charged with aggravated murder in the death of Andrea Cincotta, 52, of Arlington.
Johnson was Cincotta’s live-in fiancé. According to The Washington Post, the couple had been together for seven years at the time of the crime.
He is being held at the Arlington County Detention Center, online records show. Leonard is in Wallens Ridge State Prison serving a life sentence in the violent 1999 rape of a 13-year-old girl, who he assaulted and left for dead.
Similarities between that crime and Cincotta’s killing helped make Leonard an early suspect in her case.
“It’s the happiest day of my adult life,” Cincotta’s son, Kevin Cincotta, told the Post about the arrests. “This has been like a cloud that’s been hanging over me for my whole adult life. I feel like it’s been lifted.”
Arlington County police officials said Thursday that Johnson called police early Aug. 22, 1998, to report finding Andrea Cincotta dead inside their apartment in the Colonial Village neighborhood.
Cincotta had made plans with both a friend and Johnson the day before but failed to show up for either meeting. The county librarian’s body was found stuffed into a bedroom closet, the Post reported.
She had been strangled, according to the newspaper.
“There was no forced entry to the home and no obvious signs of a struggle,” authorities said in a statement.
Cincotta and Johnson’s apartment was involved in another homicide investigation two years later, on July 15, 2000, when the man who moved in after Cincotta’s killing, David Butler, was slain while walking home from a nearby metro station. The cases were not connected, according to police.
Detectives followed up on several leads in Cincotta’s death, including Leonard, who had been in her apartment weeks before the homicide. According to the Post, Cincotta was planning to throw out an old computer and printer.
She spotted a work truck outside the building and, believing it to belong to a trash company, approached it. Leonard, one of the workers, told her it was not a trash truck but said he needed a computer for himself.
Cincotta gave him both the computer and the printer, Kevin Cincotta told the Post in 2002. He said he and Johnson were “appalled” that his mother had let a stranger in the apartment, but they figured any danger was over.
“She approached him. He couldn’t have been planning anything,” Cincotta told the newspaper.
Leonard was questioned, his apartment was searched, and he gave detectives a DNA sample and his fingerprints. Police in 2002 said there was not enough evidence to charge Leonard, who by that time was more than two years into his life sentence, with Cincotta’s death.
The paper noted, however, that Leonard’s 1999 rape victim was choked and left in a closet, as Cincotta had been.
Kevin Cincotta kept pushing for a resolution to his mother’s case.
Authorities said the department’s cold case detectives took a fresh look at the case in 2013, reviewing the files and crime scene evidence, poring over lab results and conducting additional interviews with witnesses. The case was recently put before a grand jury, which indicted both men on murder charges.
It is unclear how detectives connected Johnson and Leonard to the crime, or to one another.
Johnson’s lawyer, Manuel Leiva, told the Post his client is innocent. He also said Leonard has “long been a suspect in Ms. Cincotta’s death and was known by law enforcement officials as a very violent individual.”
“The assertion that Mr. Johnson hired Leonard to kill Ms. Cincotta is false,” Leiva said.
Investigators believe they have the right suspects.
“The passage of time does not diminish the need for answers and accountability in this senseless crime that took Andrea’s life,” Arlington County police Chief Andy Penn said in a statement. “The indictments are the culmination of years of dedicated investigative work in our ongoing pursuit of justice on behalf of Andrea and her family.”
The homicide investigation remains ongoing. Anyone with information related to this homicide is asked to contact Detective R. Ortiz at 703-228-7402 or Rortiz@arlingtonva.us. Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).
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