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The decades-long cold case murder of a librarian and single mother may be coming to a close, after a Virginia man pleaded guilty this week to strangling the woman nearly 24 years ago.
Bobby Joe Leonard, 54, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to first-degree murder in the death of Andrea Cincotta. Leonard said that he agreed to kill Cincotta for $5,000, which he never got from a man he believed was his target's boyfriend, the Washington Post reported.
James Christopher Johnson discovered his fiancée’s lifeless body in the bedroom closet of the apartment they shared on August 22, 1998, according to the Washington Post, citing new court documents.
Johnson reportedly told authorities that coins and bags were missing from the apartment, and that her hatchback Honda Civic and its keys were also gone. There were no signs of a struggle or forced entry.
He also told police that Cincotta had given an old computer to a man doing maintenance work around the apartment four weeks before her death, adding that the man was having problems with the computer and Cincotta asked him to call the guy, the Washington Post reported. The maintenance worker was later identified as Leonard.
Both Johnson and Leonard were viewed as suspects at the time of Cincotta’s death but were never charged and the case went cold.
The case was reopened in 2013 at the insistence of Cincotta’s son, Kevin.
In November 2021, both men were charged with her murder. At that point, Leonard was already serving a life sentence for raping and assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 1999.
“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 press release when the men were charged. “The indictments are the culmination of years of dedicated investigative work in our ongoing pursuit of justice on behalf of Andrea and her family.”
Leonard told police in 2018 that he had, in fact, taken Cincotta’s old computer and had a telephone conversation with her about it not working that well.
Leonard said he then got a call from “a male who identified himself as an engineer.”
“Mr. Leonard believed this individual [to] be Ms. Cincotta's boyfriend based on the conversation,” according to the Washington Post, citing new court documents filed with Leonard's plea.
“Mr. Leonard had a subsequent telephone conversation with the same male, who offered Mr. Leonard $5,000 to take care of something for him," the documents state. "The male told Mr. Leonard this had to be done the next day, because Ms. Cincotta would be home. The male told Mr. Leonard not to use a gun because that would be too loud, that he should wear gloves, that he should not be seen by anyone, and that he should wear a hat to cover up his face."
"The male told Mr. Leonard the money would be left in the closet for him to pick up, the same closet from where Mr. Leonard had picked up the computer," the documents add.
Leonard said Cincotta offered him a root beer when he came to the apartment. According to the plea documents, he admitted that “he strangled her until she was no longer breathing,” but that the money was not in the closet where he was told it would be.
Johnson has under home confinement since his arrest and denies any involvement in Cincotta’s murder. His trial is scheduled to start on September 12.
Leonard is expected to testify.
“Mr. Johnson is innocent,” his attorneys, Manuel Leiva and Frank Salvato, said in a statement to the Post. “In prosecuting him, the government is relying on the self-serving lies of a man serving a life sentence for the rape and attempted murder of a 13-year-old girl.”
Kevin Cincotta, the victim's son, said that he had been surprised that Johnson was a suspect in his mother’s death and that the family had supported the man they call Chris back in 1998 when he was first identified as a suspect, the Post reported.
“The information Chris had shared with me up to that point did not give me a reason to think he was involved — but all of that information was coming from Chris,” he told the Washington Post.
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