Mayville man indicted in 2008 homicide cold case

Rance “Randy” Freeman, Jr.

Little more than 10 years ago, Jeffrey Johnson of Westfield was found dead inside his residence, which was labeled by investigators as “suspicious” when his body was found Nov. 8, 2008.

Now, the Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson and Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace have announced that Rance “Randy” Freeman, Jr., 31, of Mayville, has been indicted, alleged to have committed two charges of second-degree murder in the case that had previously ran cold.

“In these cold cases, we’re constantly looking at them and from time to time, new evidence becomes available,” Swanson said. “Additional witnesses come forward that allow the prosecution of these cases.”

Both Swanson and Gerace expressed satisfaction in being able to bring more information to light on the case in an attempt to serve justice for the Johnson family. Swanson said it’s not the norm for cases this far gone to re-emerge with new evidence. Gerace said the victim and suspect apparently knew each other.

“I’m very proud of the investigators of this case who continue to pour through leads in any open case,” Gerace said. “It would be very satisfying if we could conclude other cold cases. Many of them haunt me.”

Swanson also explained the differences between the two second-degree murder charges. They stem from two different theories of prosecution, one that charges Freeman with the intent to kill and another that charges him with the killing that may have occurred in the execution of another felony act, which Swanson said can no longer be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations. Swanson said that the latter theory could suggest Freeman either intended to kill Johnson in the course of the other felony or not. Regardless, prosecutors would not have to prove intent to kill in the latter example.

Freeman was arraigned Thursday in Chautauqua County Court where he entered a plea of not guilty before Judge Stephen Cass. Bail was then set at $500,000 cash or $1 million property. Freeman is due to return to court for the completion of discovery and standard motions at a later date. The charges carry a potential sentence ranging from 15 years to life up to 25 years to life imprisonment.

“Any sentencing (based on the two charges) would be concurrent,” Swanson said.

Johnson was 55 years old when he was found dead inside his 7801 Main St. home in Westfield. The Village of Westfield Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Chautauqua County Forensic Investigation Team responded and began an investigation, which led to the recent indictment of Freeman.

“My thanks go out to the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office and Westfield Police for their continued efforts in investigating this case,” Swanson said.

The forensics unit had spent the weekend of the death investigating the scene back in 2008. A canvass of the area for witnesses had proceeded the initial investigation. Following an autopsy two days after the body was found, Johnson’s death had officially been ruled a homicide. In a Nov. 11, 2008 news conference, Gerace had cited blunt force trauma to the head as the cause of death. He and former Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley had not commented on specifics related to the investigation 10 years ago.

“You continue to look at the entire case (and) pour through information from people that may know something who may not have initially come forward,” Gerace said. “You also have advances in technology that can generate new information. … You never want to let go of hope. It’s my hope that this continues in the future where we’re always pursuing leads in cases that can lead to success.”

Ned Barone, Chautauqua County public defender, said he will be representing Freeman. He noted that there are additional concerns and considerations to make when someone is indicted so long after the original incident took place.

“We have a lot of work to do to go back those 10 years,” Barone said.

Eric Tichy contributed to this story.