An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that James Christopher Johnson had been in jail since November. He is under house arrest. The story also incorrectly referred to Johnson’s “guilty plea.” Bobby Joe Leonard pleaded guilty to the charge. Additionally, a photo caption reports that Kevin Cincotta graduated in 1996. He graduated in 1995.
The case of Andrea Cincotta, a librarian and single mother found dead in her Arlington apartment, has remained an unsolved mystery for nearly 24 years.
Her body was cold to the touch when her live-in fiance, James Christopher Johnson, told police that he discovered it in the bedroom closet. in the early morning hours of August 22, 1998, according to new court documents filed Wednesday.
Coins and bags were missing from the apartment, Johnson told police. Cincotta’s Honda Civic hatchback is missing, keys missing. There were no signs of a forced entry or a struggle was apparent, police said.
But there’s another detail: Johnson told police that Cincotta had given an old, unwanted computer to a caretaker at the apartment complex, about four weeks before his death.
On Wednesday, the man pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder charge, admitting he strangled Cincotta to death more than two decades ago. And he admitted that he did it in hopes of being paid by a man he believed to be Cincotta’s boyfriend.
Bobby Joe Leonard, 54, stated as part of his plea in Arlington County Circuit Court that he agreed to kill Cincotta for $5,000 — which he never received. He did not name Johnson, although police have charged him in connection with what they described as a murder-for-hire plot.
Johnson and Leonard were both suspects in the initial police investigation into Cincotta’s death in 1998. Then the case went cold with no one being charged. After years of digging and prodding by Cincotta’s son, Kevin Cincotta, officials reopened the case in 2013.
Johnson and Leonard are accused of killing Andrea Cincotta in November. At that time, Leonard was sentenced to life in prison for the rape and assault of a 13-year-old girl in 1999.
Leonard’s guilty plea fills in another piece of the puzzle that remains incomplete.
In 2018, Leonard told an Arlington County detective that after he took Andrea Cincotta’s old computer, he talked to her about it over the phone. Johnson told police in 1998 that the man was having trouble with the computer, and Cincotta asked him to call it.
Leonard said that after speaking with him, he received a phone call from “a man who identified himself as an engineer.”
“Mr. Leonard believed this man [to] be a friend of Ms. Cincotta based on the conversation,” according to documents filed with Leonard’s request.
The plea documents offer this description of the following: “Mr. Leonard had a series of phone conversations with the same man, who offered Mr. Leonard $5,000 to take care of something for him. The man told Mr. Leonard that it had to be done the next day, because Ms. Cincotta was going home. The man told Mr. Leonard not to use the gun because it was too powerful, that he would wear gloves, that no one would see him, and that he would wear a hat to cover his face. The man told Mr. Leonard that the money would be left in the closet for him to retrieve, the same closet where Mr. Leonard took the computer.”
When Leonard showed up at Andrea Cincotta’s apartment, she invited him in and offered him root beer, according to the documents.
Leonard admitted he “strangled her until she stopped breathing,” according to the plea documents, adding that the $5,000 was not in the closet.
Johnson, who is under house arrest, has maintained his innocence since the death of Andrea Cincotta in 1998.
“Mr. Johnson is innocent,” his lawyers, Manuel Leiva and Frank Salvato, said in a statement after Leonard’s plea on Wednesday. “In prosecuting him, the government relied on the own lies of a man serving a life sentence for the rape and attempted murder of a 13-year-old girl. Mr. Leonard left a path of victims during his three decades of violent criminal behavior.Unfortunately, the Cincotta family and Mr. Johnson were among his victims.
In a 2002 interview with The Post, Leonard denied any role in Cincotta’s death. “I’m cooperating in every way the Arlington police want,” Leonard said in a phone interview from jail. “I submitted to a polygraph; the examiner told me I passed. I submitted DNA and fingerprints. They searched my apartment. I was fully cooperative, never asked for a lawyer. I had nothing to do with that.”
Now, Leonard is expected to testify in Johnson’s trial, which is scheduled to begin on September 12.
“Today is about my mom, and we’ve been waiting for 24 years,” Kevin Cincotta said after the hearing. “I’m 48, so I live without him as much as I live with him. I feel a spiritual connection with him, and I feel that he is watching all this, and this is for him.
Kevin Cincotta said he was surprised when he learned that the authorities identified Johnson as the suspect in the latest investigation. The family is supporting Johnson – who they know as “Chris” — when he was the first suspect in 1998, Kevin Cincotta said.
“The information Chris shared with me up to that point gave me no reason to think he was involved – but all the information came from Chris,” he said.