Man Sentenced to 30 Years in Prison for Killing DC Actress Tricia McCauley

"Miss McCauley was a special person who had a profound impact on everybody that she came in contact with," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Misler said of the victim

The man who attacked and killed a D.C. actress on Christmas Day 2016 was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison.

Duane Adrian Johnson, 30, sexually assaulted and murdered Tricia McCauley after she left her home in Northwest D.C. and headed to a Christmas dinner. She was 46.

McCauley, who did not know the man who killed her, lived in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of D.C. and was an accomplished actress who also worked as a yoga instructor and as a licensed nutritionist.

Johnson entered a guilty plea in September and agreed to a 30-year sentence, avoiding life in prison. A judge accepted that deal during the sentencing Friday.

More than a dozen of McCauley's friends were in the courtroom as her killer learned his fate. 

Johnson, 30, did not speak or acknowledge McCauley's friends, many of whom are now in grief counseling. 

"When your best friend is murdered and abused by a stranger on Christmas Day, it's a little hard to take," her friend Dean Hively said. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Misler called the murder "horrific." 

"Miss McCauley was a special person who had a profound impact on everybody that she came in contact with," he said. 

Defense attorneys for Johnson told the judge that he suffers from mental illness and had been sleeping on the streets for days before the murder. He had been discharged from a psychiatric facility because he had no insurance, they said. 

The search for McCauley began the day after Christmas 2016, after she failed to show up to Christmas dinner at a friend's house. 

She left her home on the 2000 block of North Capitol Street NW and got into her two-door Toyota Scion to drive to a friend's home in D.C. On the way, she encountered Johnson. 

"He entered her vehicle and, shortly thereafter, sexually assaulted her," prosecutors said in a statement released Friday.

She tried to fight him off by kicking and punching him. During the struggle, her clothing ripped and Johnson broke her nose.

He strangled her. Then, he put her body in the backseat of her car.

Police launched a widespread search to find McCauley. In the hours following her disappearance, police released a photo of a man they said may have been driving McCauley's car.

A man who saw the photos police released online called police when he spotted McCauley's car. Jonathan Padget came face to face with Johnson near 21st and P streets NW, near Dupont Circle, he said.

"I definitely was aware that this could be a dangerous situation," he previously told News4.

Padget, who said he had friends who knew McCauley, said he spoke to the man and then called for help. The suspect's behavior seemed off, he said.

"He was moving around a lot, and he was smoking something," Padget said.

Police confronted Johnson several blocks to the southwest, inside the CVS store at 22nd and M streets NW. He gave officers the keys to McCauley's car, police said. He was found with several of McCauley's credit cards in his coat pocket.

When the officers searched the car, they found McCauley's body.

Police believe the suspect drove McCauley's car for as long as 24 hours before he was caught, stopping at several CVS stores.

Speaking with detectives at the D.C. police department's Homicide Branch, Johnson initially claimed he met McCauley on or about Christmas Day. He claimed she offered to give him a ride in his car and then offered to have sex with him. She then killed herself, he claimed, according to the court documents. 

He then drove her car throughout D.C. for hours and made purchases using her credit cards. He said he picked up a prostitute. 

When police asked Johnson why he drove with McCauley's body in the car, he claimed he thought she was sleeping and might awaken. 

He claimed that prior to McCauley's death, she told him he could have all her belongings, including her credit cards, money and car, the documents say.

Johnson was arrested six previous times in 2016. He was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and wear a GPS ankle bracelet after he was charged with theft from two businesses on Dec. 17, 2016. But police said he was not wearing the monitor when he was arrested.

Johnson's stepfather, Russell Dixon, previously told The Washington Post that Johnson had been living on the streets and suffered from mental problems. Dixon suggested the courts had been too lenient on his stepson. 

“The court system let him go. That’s not the help he needs,” he told the Post. “He should have been held.”

Dixon told the paper he never saw signs of violence in Johnson.

Friends of McCauley's previously told News4 about who she was. 

"Tricia was a very strong leader and at the same time a very gentle, compassionate, nurturing person," Jasmine Chehrazi, the founder of the D.C. yoga studio chain Yoga District, said.

McCauley's professional website includes a long list of acting credits, including with the Washington Stage Guild. She played Anna Karenina and acted in a Kennedy Center national tour, the website says. She also appeared in commercials and did voiceover work.

She graduated from American University in 1992 with a degree in theater, her LinkedIn page says.

Three days before McCauley vanished, she emailed Chehrazi, who trained her as a yoga instructor, to thank her.

"She just put in big capital letters, 'thank you for the Yoga District community,'" Chehrazi said. "She didn't have to do that, but she did that because that's the type of person Tricia is."

Chehrazi said she believes McCauley would want her work as a yoga practitioner to live on.

"I know she would want us to keep breathing and keep working to find inner peace to help foster outer peace throughout the world," she said.

Johnson is set to serve 30 years in prison and will not be eligible for early release. He'll be 60 years old when he gets out. Then, he will be required to remain under court supervision until he's 90.

McCauley's loved ones are honoring her by creating a garden in her name, as well as a fund to help actors and other theater professionals afford health insurance.

Her friend, Hively, said he hopes that in McCauley's memory D.C. will improve its social services. 

"We hope that the D.C. court system and social services system will improve its mental health services to folks on the street, to folks who are suffering from mental health [problems] and drug addiction, in order to keep people safe," he said.

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