A man who broke into the homes of three Berkeley women and sexually assaulted them in 2008 was convicted on Monday as part of a plea deal and sentenced to 24 years in state prison.
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Johnny Dunbar, who was 16 at the time of the assaults, raped two of the women. He used a knife to constrain his first victim and a gun to confront the second, police say. Dunbar also used a knife to try to force a third woman to orally copulate him, but was “frightened” before he could succeed, police said after his arrest.
Police found fingerprints and collected DNA from the sex crimes, which took place in the same North Berkeley neighborhood for just one month in the summer of 2008. But the evidence didn’t match anyone in the system. The trail went cold and Dunbar evaded detection for nearly a decade.
That changed in March 2016 when Berkeley police pulled him over for a minor traffic violation. Police collected his fingerprints in connection with the case and eventually found their man: Subsequent forensic analysis matched Dunbar’s fingerprints to those found on a window sill after the first rape, June 21, 2008 .
Detectives then collected Dunbar’s DNA. This corresponded to the three sexual assaults.
The BPD arrested Dunbar on July 6, 2016, at his home on Delaware Street, not far from the North Berkeley BART station. During the arrest, police also found thousands of dollars in cash and evidence of drug trafficking, according to court documents.
Two days later, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office charged Dunbar with two counts of forced rape, one count of forced oral copulation, and one count of attempted oral copulation. Dunbar, then 24, was charged as an adult.
Since then, the case has traveled through the court system at a chilling pace. Initially, Dunbar’s defense attorney, Ernesto Castillo, attempted to have his client’s case transferred to juvenile court. He did not succeed.
Finally, on Monday, the case was scheduled for a 9 a.m. preliminary hearing, which is a kind of mini-trial where the prosecution presents the evidence it says will allow a judge to order that a defendant be judged.
This type of hearing, called “px” for short, usually takes place within a year of the arrest. But it may take longer if a case is complex or the charges are particularly serious.
The px is often the first time evidence in a criminal case becomes public. Key witnesses testify and experts speak.
However, the burden of proof for a preliminary investigation is much lower than at trial. The prosecution does not present its entire case and the defense often does not present any evidence. The judge need only determine that a reasonable person would believe that the accused could have committed the crime.
Dunbar’s scheduled preliminary hearing on Monday, however, did not take place at the agreed time.
Instead, after taking some time in the courtroom to finalize a deal they were working on, Castillo and prosecutor Melissa Demetral told Judge Andrew Steckler that Dunbar would change his plea to not guilty in the case in exchange for an agreed sentence. They announced the deal just after 10:30 a.m.
As part of the settlement, Dunbar pleaded no contest and was found guilty of the June 21, 2008 forcible rape of the first woman he assaulted, as well as the July 8, 2008 forcible rape, as well as copulation forced oral, from the second woman.
For each of these three counts, he will be sentenced to eight years in prison, to be served consecutively, for a total of 24 years.
Dunbar also pleaded no contest and was found guilty of attempted forced oral copulation in connection with the assault of the third woman on July 21, 2008. This carries a four-year sentence to be served concurrently, meaning he will not add additional jail time. .
During the hearing, in response to Judge Steckler’s explanations and questions, Dunbar said he understood the terms of the agreement and waived his right to a jury trial.
Steckler confirmed that Dunbar, who is now 30, understood that the convictions would count as four strokes against him and that when he is released he will have to register as a sex offender.
Dunbar, who wore the short-sleeved red shirt of his prison smock with matching red and white striped pants, spoke calmly and only answered “yes” or “no” to the judge’s questions.
Berkeleyside was the only participant in the hearing.
Dunbar is scheduled to return to Steckler’s courtroom at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland for his formal sentencing on July 14.
Berkeley Police Sgt. Sean Ross, who led the sex crimes unit at the time of the series of unknown rapes in 2008, said the attacks “seized the whole community in fear”.
“Dunbar’s sexual assault and burglary crime spree in the summer of 2008 forever changed the lives of three women,” Ross said. “This plea deal brings the closure survivors and the community needed.”
Featured photo credit: Pete Rosos