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Crime News Real Murders of Los Angeles

"A Huge Victory": Killer who Lured Women with Promise of "Bond Girl" Auditions Waives Early Parole Hearing

“What a weight off of my back this is,” Kristi Johnson’s mother Terry Hall told Oxygen.com of her daughter's killer Victor Paleologus waiving his parole hearing.

By Stephanie Gomulka

The mother of a young woman murdered by a man who lured her to a Hollywood Hills location with the promise of a "Bond Girl" audition says a "big burden" has been lifted since her daughter's convicted killer waived his right to a parole hearing last month.

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Victor Paleologus, who became eligible for parole in May of this year, voluntarily waived the right to a hearing for two years on August 25, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Paleologus, 61, pled guilty in 2006 to the 2003 murder of 21-year-old Kristine "Kristi" Johnson, a case that will be featured in an episode of the upcoming Oxygen show, The Real Murders of Los Angeles, premiering October 6.

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“What a weight off of my back this is,” Johnson’s mother, Terry Hall, told Oxygen.com of the parole hearing waiver. “It’s interesting, sometimes in life you don’t realize what a big burden you’re carrying until it’s lifted from you.”

Hall noted her feeling of relief is only temporary, as Paleologus is next eligible for a parole hearing in November of 2025.

Victor Paleologus sitting during his court case

The day after Valentine’s Day in 2003, Paleologus spotted Johnson at the Century City mall in Los Angeles, according to court documents reviewed by Oxygen.com. He convinced her to meet him at a different location by pretending he could get her a film audition.

Just over two weeks later, on March 3, Johnson’s body was discovered by hikers in a ravine in the Hollywood Hills, according to the Los Angeles Times. She had been strangled and her hands and ankles were found bound.

A detective who had worked on the case told Dateline NBC that her body was partially in a sleeping bag, and was decomposed from the shoulders up from being left out during the rainy season.

The False Promise of a Big Break in Hollywood

At Paleologus’ trial, about 40 witnesses testified, many detailing a pattern of the defendant convincing women to meet him at different locations for potential job opportunities.

Investigators spoke with Johnson’s roommate, who told them that Johnson returned home from the shopping center very excited that she was going to try out for a James Bond movie, Dateline NBC reported.

Kristi standing with her brother Derek Johnson

After detectives held a press conference about the missing woman, a call came in from another young woman, Susan Murphy, who said she'd also been approached at the Century City mall just a few weeks earlier. Murphy told Dateline that her "women's intuition" led her to contact authorities after hearing about the case, and tell them that she'd encountered a man who presented himself as Victor Thomas at that same mall.

The man had told her he was casting a James Bond movie. Murphy described his features to help police create a sketch.

A parole officer who saw the sketch believed it was Paleologus, who had recently got out of jail for assaulting another woman, according to the Dateline episode.

Several other women also came forward about similar experiences with Paleologus. In the late 1990s, he came across Cathy DeBuono — an actress who had a small but regular role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at the time — and also mentioned James Bond movies, saying he was working on them and the filmmakers were looking for new talent.

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DeBuono had said he claimed his name was Brian and that he was a Disney executive. She agreed to meet him in 1998, and brought along a male companion for safety, according to Dateline. DeBuono drove to the address "Brian" told her to, waiting in the car where he'd instructed her to park and had told her that someone would come out to get her. But with DeBuono's friend in the car, no one ever showed up to meet her.

Murphy, in 2003, brought her boyfriend with her when she went to meet the man from the mall, but left him in the car and walked to the intersection that she'd been instructed to. There, the man suggested they go into what looked to Murphy like an abandoned building for a drink. So she asked him to show his ID, then pointed to her companion in the car. Murphy told Dateline that the man got angry, then told her she wouldn't be the right fit for the part and walked away. 

Did Victor Paleologus commit any other crimes before he killed Kristi Johnson?

Paleologus was convicted of several crimes prior to Johnson’s murder, including stalking, burglary, forging documents, and sexual assaults, according to the district attorney’s statement of view in the Johnson case. The month before Johnson’s murder, he was released from prison after serving five years for assault with intent to commit rape, attempted forcible rape, and false imprisonment by violence.

In that case, Paleologus was accused of approaching the victim at Sky Bar in Hollywood on August 30, 1998 and telling her he was a Disney movie producer and that he was scouting young women to photograph to promote a James Bond movie. He told her to meet him at a Ritz-Carlton hotel and to wear a black mini-skirt, nude-colored pantyhose, and black high heels, according to the DA's statement in the Johnson case. She met him at the hotel, where he then asked that they go to another location.

“With fake contracts in hand,” Paleologus instructed the woman to come to his "office," which was later discovered to be the site of a 1996 attack he carried out on another victim. The woman from the Sky Bar met him there, where he was able to tie a cord around her ankles while he was having her pose. Paleologus pinned her to the floor and used his necktie to tie her left wrist. He attempted to rape her, but she was able to break free, make it out the door and drive to a police station, the District Attorney of Los Angeles County stated.

How was Victor Paleologus eligible for early parole after his conviction in Kristi Johnson’s murder?

Paleologus' plea deal for admitting to murdering Johnson took the death penalty the district attorney was initially pursuing off the table, according to court transcripts. Instead, Paleologus was sentenced to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole.

On the day of his sentencing, he wrote a letter to the judge, asking to withdraw his guilty plea, which the judge denied. Paleologus later petitioned the court for an appeal, claiming his attorney pressured him to take the plea deal, which the California Supreme Court denied in 2008, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

If Johnson’s mother Terry Hall could “reverse the hands of time,” she would’ve taken more of an issue with the sentence allowing for parole, Hall told Oxygen.com.

“I was told there was no way that this perpetrator would ever be granted parole,” Hall said. “Victim’s rights have been severely diminished over the past 20 years and I’m speaking directly about the county of L.A.”

Terry Hall cries standing next to a stained glass window

Some of the changes Hall points to in Los Angeles County include early parole eligibility for the elderly and removing prosecutors from the parole hearing process.

Paleologus’ opportunity for a parole hearing was given earlier than his original sentence called for, Hall noted.  

“The inmate actually has more rights than I do as the victim and I’m representing my daughter as a victim,” Hall said. “One thing that’s just glaring is the perpetrator actually gets assigned legal counsel and I do not. Previously, the victims would go into a parole hearing and the sides would have equal, you know, representation there... The scales of justice are definitely not balanced going into the situation.”

Deputy district attorneys were instructed to not attend parole hearings and to “support in writing the grant of parole for a person who has already served their mandatory minimum period of incarceration,” according to a 2020 directive from Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.

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If a person was deemed high risk for reoffending, the deputy district attorney should remain neutral in the parole process, according to Gascón's guidelines. Research on low reoffending rates for older people in prison, as well as the high costs for keeping them in prison, were among the reasons cited for the changes. Those aged 50-64 are less likely to reoffend, the directive noted, adding, “We are spending billions to lock up people, 96% of whom will not even commit a technical violation once released.”

Hall called the argument that older inmates are less likely to reoffend “insidious."

“We know that there are a lot of people that are past the age of 60 that are still capable of committing horrendous crimes so that doesn’t sit well with me,” she added.

The chance of Paleologus being let out on parole “terrified” DeBuono, who's now a psychotherapist after working as an actor at the time she met Paleologus. “This is the kind of offender that will never stop,” DeBuono told Oxygen.com. “This was 20 years ago. This should be behind me.”

For DeBuono and other survivors, the parole process “is a lot of pain and a lot of heartache and a lot of energy and a lot of time and work,” she said.

“When they gave him that deal, they sentenced Kristi’s family, Kristi’s mother, father, brother, and the rest of us, all the women who testified, they sentenced us to life,” DeBuono said. “Now every time he’s up for parole, we have to deal with this.”

Where is Victor Paleologus Now?

Paleologus is currently housed at the California Institution for Men in Chino, California, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Hall says she plans to keep an eye on any changing legislation and updates on Paleologus’ health, as well as where he's incarcerated leading up to his next possible parole hearing. “We have identified that there are cracks in the system,” Hall said.

A group called Justice for Kristi was formed in memory of Johnson and to campaign against Paleologus' release. 

To learn more about this case and others, watch The Real Murders of Los Angeles on Oxygen starting Friday, October 6.

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