Advances in DNA technology led to the arrest of a man in the 1997 shooting death of a teller during a bank robbery in California, authorities announced Tuesday.
On April 28, 1997, two robbers disguised as construction workers wearing raincoats, hard hats and pantyhose over their faces went inside Western Financial Bank in Thousand Oaks and demanded money from the employees, Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said during a news conference.
Just a few months into her new job, 39-year-old bank teller Monica Leech and two other employees were forced into a vault, told to unlock and open the safe and handcuffed by the robbers, according to the sheriff.
Leech was forced to get on her knees and shot in the head at close range, District Attorney Erik Nasarenko said.
“Monica was cooperative and not a threat to the bank robbers, so investigators don’t understand why she had to be shot,” the sheriff said.
The two robbers got away with about $11,000 in cash and Leech died from her injuries, according to the sheriff.
“This was a senseless, unprovoked and vicious murder,” Nasarenko said.
Detectives initially identified two possible suspects in the bank robbery, including a man named Kevin Ray James. “But there was not enough evidence at that time to bring the suspect to justice and the case eventually went cold,” the sheriff said.
Cold case investigators reopened the case in 2021 and, because of advances in DNA technology, were able to isolate and amplify DNA found at the crime scene, ultimately linking 55-year-old James to Leech’s killing, officials said.
James was arrested at his home in the city of San Bernardino – 25 years after the deadly robbery – and charged Monday with first-degree murder, two special allegations of murder while engaged in a robbery and use of a firearm, according to the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.
CNN has reached out to James’ legal representatives for comment. He remains in custody in the Ventura County jail without bail and is expected to be arraigned April 13.
While James is in custody, authorities are still seeking the second suspect in the case.
“We want the public’s help to bring the second perpetrator to justice,” Nasarenko said.
A $30,000 reward offered by the FBI and the City of Thousand Oaks is still available for information leading police to the second suspect in the case, Fryhoff said.