UPDATE: Suspect in 1997 murders of Goetcheus brothers given 3 life sentences
Johnson was given three separate life sentences, each without the possibility of parole.
UPDATE: The man indicted in the 1997 death of brothers Sean and Donny Goetcheus has been sentenced to three life sentences, according to the Office of District Attorney General Neal Pinkston.
Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole accepted Johnson’s pleas to three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to three separate life sentences, each without the possibility of parole.
The third count is for the death of Melissa Michelle “Missy” Ward, who was last seen the night of October 29, 2004.
Her body was found on Cash Canyon Road in Lookout Valley some two months afterward.
In 2014, Johnson began serving a 50-year prison sentence for the kidnapping and rapes committed in 2011.
PREVIOUS STORY: District Attorney General Neal Pinkston announced the indictment of a suspect in the 19-year-old cold case of the murders of the Goetcheus brothers.
Christopher Jeffre Johnson, 52, was indicted on two counts of First Degree murder for the 1997 murders, according to Pinkston.
Johnson is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence for the kidnapping and rapes of two girls, is a career offender who for years has bragged to other inmates about killing the brothers.
The DA's office said that he had not been taken seriously until Cold Case Unit detectives interviewed him for the Ward case.
Once investigators spoke with Johnson, they became convinced Johnson is responsible for the Goetcheus’ murders. In a series of conversations with CCU Supervisor Mike Mathis throughout the last year, Johnson has repeatedly confessed to the murders.
Forensic experts confirm Johnson’s version of events is consistent with the crime scene. He has provided details that would only be known to the killer.
DA Pinkston tells Channel 3 that there are still parts of the investigation that his office is still working on. Pinkston said he's not ruling out more charges that could be filed in the future.
The DA's office says that a possible motive may be a videotape Sean Goetcheus had of illegal activity involving Rick Davis of Rick Davis’ Gold & Diamonds.
Rick Davis denies any kind of videotape to Channel 3 and said he had nothing to do with the murders.
"Sean was in possession of a videotape that Rick Davis wanted, and Mr. Johnson went to retrieve the video, and had words with Sean, and shot Sean," Pinkston said.
On the night of the murders, Pinkston said Chris Johnson took money to Sean Goetcheus to buy the video. During that encounter, Johnson became angry and shot Sean. Upon hearing the gunfire, Donny called out to ask what was going on, until that point Johnson had no idea Donny was in the house.
"I didn't believe that this story could be the true story, because there had been other stories along the 19 and a half years that sounded more viable," said Juleen Goetcheus, the boys' step-mother.
19 and a half years of questions for David and Juleen Goetcheus, wondering who killed the two boys, but even the answers are hard to hear.
"The pain of knowing they died for no reason, this is lucifer walking on the face of the earth, this guy is the devil," David said.
The Goetcheus family helped create a support group for the families of cold case victims. They meet on the last Friday of every month at the Cold Case Unit office. Other family members are encouraged to attend.
Diane and Larry Clonts (the brothers’ mother and step-father) live in Texas, provided the following statement:
We would like to thank everyone involved who worked on the case for their dedication and persistence in seeing that justice prevails.
Beginning years ago with Tim Carroll and Mike Mathis for their diligence and kindness, up to the present time with Neal Pinkston and his staff keeping us abreast of their efforts as the case progressed.
The irreparable damage has been done and the sadness in the loss of Sean and Donny cannot be measured but it is comforting to know justice will prevail.
Our prayers go out to everyone who has been affected by these senseless acts of pure evil.
As always, God will be the final judge.
Diane and Larry Clonts
Anyone with information should call the Cold Case Unit Hotline: 423-209-7470 or e-mail by clicking here.
Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.
PREVIOUS STORY: Channel 3 is learning new, never-before-released information about two Chattanooga brothers murdered in 1997. Saturday will mark 19 years since Sean and Donny Goetcheus were shot, execution-style, inside their Brainerd home.
Hamilton County Cold Case Unit investigators say they're now very close to identifying the suspects.
They now believe the younger Goetcheus brother, Donny, 19, may have been the killer's intended target, according to District Attorney General Neal Pinkston. For years, police thought 25-year-old Sean, who worked in the jewelry business, was targeted.
Donny was a skateboarder and a free spirit. He often hung around a pink apartment building in downtown Chattanooga. It was a hot spot for drugs in the 90s, and now, it's a focal point in the case.
New information shows that in the month leading up to the brothers' deaths, their demeanors changed significantly, becoming withdrawn, paranoid, and scared. Within weeks, they were murdered.
Investigators say the murder weapon was Sean's handgun. It was taken from the scene and was never recovered.
Pinkston said the brothers knew their killers, and may have known them well.
Their parents, David and Julenne Goetcheus, are hopeful that 2016 will bring answers.
"We just want to know why," said Julenne.
Solid leads have focused on people in Hamilton County and Marion County.
"You can imagine how it was to go all these years, and not have anything done, not be able to have any progress. Now, we are having progress," David said.
"I don't believe in the word closure, because there will never be closure. But justice. I really feel that justice would give us a measure of peace," added Julenne.
There is a $21,000 cash reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information should call the Cold Case Unit Hotline: 423-209-7470 or e-mail by clicking here.
PREVIOUS STORY: Saturday, January 9, 2016, marks 19 years since Sean and Donnie Goetcheus were found executed inside their Brainerd home.
The case has remained unsolved for as long as Donnie Goetcheus lived and investigators are asking the public to help put the final pieces in place to bring their killer(s) to justice, says District Attorney General Neal Pinkston.
"We believe we are very close to identifying the suspects," said District Attorney General Neal Pinkston.
Investigators have conducted "hundreds" of interviews since the case was re-opened three years ago.
Most of that information has been kept close to the vest. But on Thursday, investigators released more details on the case than ever before, including information about the murder weapon.
Police never recovered the handgun used in the execution-style murders. According to Pinkston, the gun belonged to Sean, leading investigators to believe the killer was familiar with the brothers and their home.
Originally investigators believed 25-year old Sean was the intended target. New leads received last fall by District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's Cold Case Unit indicate the target may actually have been 19-year old Donnie.
"It's time to tell more. We're running out of leads," said Mike Mathis, Cold Case Unit. "Sometimes we hold information very close to the investigation, but there comes a time when you need to stop holding it in and put it out there."
Investigators ask the public if they knew him, they want to hear from you, even if you don’t think you can help solve the case. They say every single piece of information, no matter how trivial, is a piece to a complicated puzzle we are close to completing.
They also want to hear from anyone who saw or spoke with either of the brothers during the last few weeks of their lives, from Thanksgiving 1996 up to the day they were found dead in their home at 3207 Rosemont Drive on January 9, 1997.
They are particularly interested in identifying a young woman seen with Sean in the days leading to his death. Investigators believe he tried to help her make a simple car repair on the day he died. Sean called a family friend who owns an auto shop on January 8, 1997, trying to find a tail light for the woman’s Honda CRX. If you have any idea who this woman might be, they want to hear from you.
The boys’ father, David Goetcheus, is struggling with serious health problems. He remains hopeful the case will be solved in his lifetime.
The DA's office is still focused on suspects in Hamilton and Marion Counties.
A $21,000 reward awaits anyone who can provide The DA's office with the information needed to close the case. Governor Haslam gave $10,000 to the reward fund and a private donor is providing another $10,000. The remaining $1,000 is offered by CrimeStoppers.
Cold Case Unit Hotline: 423-209-7470 or email at email@example.com
PREVIOUS STORY: Nearly two decades after Sean and Donny Goetcheus were killed, the community is stepping up its efforts to help solve the case.
New flyers have gone up around Marion County, where investigators have focused on recent leads.
The brothers were shot and killed execution-style in their Brainerd home in January 1997.
In March, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam offered a $10,000 reward in the case. The reward currently stands at $21,000.
"You wonder when people come in. Where have they been? What have they done?" said David Johnson, who owns the Dixie Freeze, a staple in South Pittsburg.
Not far from the "Open" sign, there's another sign that reads "Double Homicide -- $21,000 Reward."
Chattanooga brothers, Sean and Donny Goetcheus, were killed over 18 years ago and 35 miles away. But investigators believe someone in this area knows exactly what happened.
"I wonder about people that come through here, travel through here. Of course, we have a lot of local people here that you've never know what they've done. We've had local people here in town that's been in a lot of trouble before also," Johnson said.
For Johnson, the case didn't ring a bell until Hamilton County's Cold Case Unit stopped by with the new flyers.
"Hang it up, let's go for it," Johnson said.
Signs are now up in store windows across Marion County. Investigators believe they're getting closer to finding the killer after new leads pointed to the area in recent months.
"Hope it's nobody we know that's involved in it," said Tom Allison, who helps run Harvey's Pirate Restaurant, another popular spot in town.
"The detective lady came by and wanted to know if she could put it up. We were very glad to let them do it," he said.
The brothers' murders hits close to home for Allison, who has kids and grandkids of his own.
"I just don't know what it would be like if we didn't have them. You'd never get a chance to grow up with them," Allison said, adding that the sign is catching a lot of customer attention and sparking new conversations about the case.
"Hopefully we can help them catch whoever done it," he said.
"There's lots of those posters out here in the community," Johnson said. "We're happy to help with anything we can do."
Anyone with information should call the Cold Case Unit Hotline at (423) 209-7470 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Tipsters can remain anonymous.