It's been almost four years since the case against three suspects fell apart in the shooting death of 20-year-old Mountain View resident Jeffrey Johnson, but authorities remain hopeful that someone will eventually step forward to name the killer.
Johnson was shot Feb. 7, 2008 in the midst of a drug deal with three suspects in the Happi House parking lot at El Camino Real and Ehrhorn Avenue, police say. Several of his friends were with Johnson, including one who was sitting next to him when he was shot while attempting to drive away in his Ford Explorer. In a different car, another person was shot in the leg during a car chase through Old Mountain View. Police believe there may be several witnesses who could potentially put the killer behind bars, but perhaps out of fear, none have talked, even when offered immunity.
"I think we had a decent idea who did it, we just can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt," said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Ray Mendoza. "We know who was there and who was involved and we just need those people to come forward. That's what's frustrating. You hope people come forward and do the right thing. And hopefully one day they will."
Everyone present during the shooting was a teenager at the time. Recent arrests in another local murder case, the 2005 killing of Alex Fernandez, are a reminder that when teenagers become adults they are more likely to speak up about a murder.
"In the Fernandez case, we did find people who were more willing to give us information because time went by, they grew up or were no longer involved in gang activity," said police spokeswoman Liz Wylie. "Someone's guilty conscious can weigh on them. For a decent person it tends to sit on your shoulders. It doesn't go away as time goes on. In fact it can get worse."
Eventually people also become less afraid to talk. "With the passage of time goes the passage of fear," Mendoza said. People who are involved may tell someone else about their involvement, and testimony from such people "is always helpful," Mendoza said.
The police arrested two suspects in the case in 2008, but both were released due to lack of evidence. Sunnyvale resident Nathan Talarico, who apparently fled after the shooting, was arrested in Mobile, Ala. Mountain View resident Jose Alfredo Romero was arrested later in Mountain View. Authorities would not name the suspected killer.
Mendoza said he could have tried to prosecute Talarico, but decided to hold off in hopes of building a better case.
Exactly why Johnson was shot remains a mystery. Mendoza said he's waiting for someone to "tell us exactly what happened and why."
"In a case like this I would love to give closure to the family and hold who did this responsible," Mendoza said. "Jeffrey was a young man, he didn't deserve to die. I'm sure the family thinks about it all the time. Jeffrey is not forgotten."
Mendoza says he will never forget the case.
"This is the only homicide I've had that I haven't been able to close out and I've been at my job 26 years."
"I think we have some evidence that we can corroborate if someone comes forward," Mendoza said. "I'm hopeful it will happen."
Anyone with information about the case can reach Mountain View police at (650) 903-6344.