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The Californian

Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green speaks about the filing of charges against Billy Ray Johnson Jr., accused of several rapes in east Bakersfield.

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The Californian

Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson speaks about the filing of charges against Billy Ray Johnson Jr., the man accused of several rapes in east Bakersfield.

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The Californian

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood talks about the filing of charges against Billy Ray Johnson Jr., accused in several rapes in east Bakersfield.

A documented gang member with a lengthy criminal record has been indicted by a grand jury in connection with a series of rapes in east Bakersfield this past year that terrified residents and led to the formation of a joint investigative task force between the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

Billy Ray Johnson Jr., 33, was arraigned Tuesday morning on 21 felony charges, including five rapes. The assaults occurred July 1, July 18, Aug. 1 and Aug. 19 in the east Bakersfield area.

Johnson was being held on $5 million bail. He declined an interview request.

“I truly feel the people of Bakersfield are safer this holiday season with the arrest and indictment of Billy Ray Johnson,” Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said during a press conference held Tuesday morning.

Johnson has been in custody since Oct. 14 on an unrelated weapons charge. DNA evidence linked him to the rapes, but Green said he’d been under surveillance before his arrest because law enforcement had developed information that he could be responsible for the crimes.

Green declined to provide further information regarding the evidence against Johnson. She said Supervising Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer will prosecute the case, and a trial is scheduled for Feb. 10.

Zimmer said there were a total of nine victims — four adults and five children — from the four incidents. One of the minors was a victim of sexual assault, and the other was assaulted with the intent to commit rape.

The other minors were victims of false imprisonment, Zimmer said.

She said she files the majority of her cases by way of grand jury. She and other DA staff examine the details of high-profile cases and determine whether to pursue an indictment by a grand jury or hold a preliminary hearing before a judge is their best option.

She said she’s used a grand jury to determine if there’s enough evidence to hold a trial in cases involving serial killers, multiple deaths and multiple defendants. She said she could not provide specifics as to why an indictment was sought in Johnson’s case.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who spoke with Police Chief Greg Williamson during the press conference, said this was one of those cases that made the hair stand up on the back of his neck.

“People were afraid to be in their homes at night,” Youngblood said.

He commended the work of DA crime lab staff, and both his investigators and those of the BPD for their work on the case. He and Williamson both said the arrest was due to the work of officers in both departments and District Attorney staff.

Police have said Johnson broke into east Bakersfield apartments during the early morning hours and bound the inhabitants. He then assaulted the victim or victims, they’ve said.

Two of the assaults and two burglaries occurred in the 2900 block of Virginia Avenue. The other rapes were reported in the 200 block of Quantico Avenue and the 4300 block of Columbus Street.

East Bakersfield resident Selena Garcia said she was happy to hear the news of Johnson’s arrest.

“A lot of people around the neighborhood worried about (the rapist) coming back,” she said.

Garcia, 18, said she changed her schedule and avoided going out at night out of fear of being attacked. She always made sure to lock all the doors and windows of her residence.

Kelly Gentry, 28, said she didn’t let fear change her routine, but she’s glad a suspect is in custody.

“Now my family’s safe,” she said.

Johnson has more than a dozen filed cases listed against him in Kern County, including a 2005 conviction for burglary and receiving stolen property. He was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison in that case.

He pleaded no contest in 1998 to participating in a criminal street gang.