AG Nessel, Kalamazoo Prosecutor Getting Announce Sentencing in Sexual Assault Cold Cases

Contact: Ryan Jarvi 517-599-2746
Agency: Attorney General

January 22, 2021 

LANSING – Serial sex offender William Darnell Johnson, 39, of Kalamazoo, was sentenced recently to serve up to 22.5 years in prison for a series of sexual assaults he committed in Kalamazoo County between 2001 and 2014, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced today in tandem with Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting. 

Johnson was charged with a series of sexual assaults on young women that started in 2001. The initial assault was reported immediately but the case was closed by police within a few weeks when the attacker could not be identified. However, in 2004, DNA evidence collected from the victim in the 2001 case matched the defendant’s DNA profile in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Despite this information, the victim was never notified and the investigation was not reopened.  

In fall 2019, the victim of the 2001 assault learned of the Kalamazoo County Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI), which was established by the Michigan Department of Attorney General to re-investigate and prosecute sexual assaults related to previously untested sexual assault evidence kits. Her case was referred to the Kalamazoo County SAKI team. 

Johnson was sentenced Jan. 11 in the 9th Circuit Court by Judge Gary Giguere, Jr. 

“This defendant has a track record of multiple violent sexual assaults on several women, and these survivors had the courage to come forward and report those assaults to law enforcement, allowing for the collection of critical evidence and testimony,” Nessel said. “This conviction would not have been possible without the hard work and determination of the Kalamazoo SAKI team, and I am grateful for the justice these professionals were able to provide to these women.” 

The Kalamazoo SAKI project, established in 2017, is funded by the Michigan Legislature and involves a partnership between the Attorney General’s office, the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office and the YWCA of Kalamazoo. The SAKI project uses the nationally recognized best practice “team approach” to the re-investigation and prosecution of cold-case sexual assaults. The team consists of a special assistant attorney general, deputized investigators employed by the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office, and a victim advocate/therapist employed by the YWCA of Kalamazoo.   

After charging Johnson for the 2001 sexual assault, the Kalamazoo SAKI team identified three other women who had been sexually assaulted by Johnson in the years following the 2001 incident. One woman reported being repeatedly raped and physically assaulted in 2013 during the course of a dating relationship with Johnson.  Also in 2013, a second woman reported being violently raped by Johnson while she was sleeping on the couch of her sister’s home while he was living with her sister. The third woman reported that Johnson threatened and attempted to rape her during an argument while the two were dating in 2014. 

In April 2020, after initial charges were filed against Johnson in the 2001 and 2013 incidents, he contacted the third woman (2014 victim) and attempted to persuade her to not testify in court in those cases or pursue her own charges. 

Johnson was convicted by plea of: 

  • Third-degree criminal sexual conduct for the 2001 assault; 
  • Third-degree criminal sexual conduct and assault with intent to commit penetration for the 2013 assault; and 
  • Assault with intent to commit sexual contact and witness interference for the 2014 incident.   

In addition to these sexual assaults, Johnson has a long criminal history that also includes convictions for assault and battery, domestic violence, resisting the police and unarmed robbery.   

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Getting said these convictions – in addition to another defendant (Roosevelt Johnson, 64, of Memphis, Tennessee, formerly of Kalamazoo; no relation to William Johnson) who is expected to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 1 for a 2013 rape –  bring the total number of convictions obtained by the Kalamazoo SAKI team to 10.  

“Not only can these women sleep tonight knowing they are no longer in danger, but our entire community is safer with a serial offender like this off the streets,” Getting said. “My office appreciates the opportunity provided by this project to identify and hold accountable sexual offenders who have avoided prosecution for many years.”   

As one of Johnson’s victims said in her victim impact statement at sentencing: “Today is the last day my rapist is able to rape me. Today is the last day I am vulnerable to a man so undeserving of life, undeserving of sharing air or my space. Today is the last day I have to deal with this person who never should have encountered me in the first place. Today is the day I have power. Today is my day.” 

Another wrote in her victim impact statement:  “This entire process has felt like a dark cloud hanging over me ... It’s been hard to tell myself that there will be sunshine again. But there will be.” 

The Kalamazoo SAKI team has investigated more than 200 case referrals from Kalamazoo County law enforcement agencies, with more than 30 active investigations and roughly 50 open cases not yet reviewed by the SAKI team. 

“I wish this case and this serial rapist were unusual,” said Erin House, the Kalamazoo SAKI assistant attorney general who led the effort. “Sadly, national data and our own experience here in Kalamazoo has shown us that the majority of rapists are serial offenders committing numerous rapes and, often acts of domestic violence, against many women over their lifetime.” 

Kalamazoo SAKI is currently prosecuting another case where the SAKI Investigator identified a dozen other women who had also been raped and/or physically assaulted by the same defendant.  That defendant – Brad Risner, 28, of Coldwater – is now facing trial in Calhoun and Jackson Counties for sexual assaults discovered during the Kalamazoo SAKI Investigation. Risner is currently being held without bond in the Jackson County Jail. 

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Please note: A criminal charge is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.